Ascension Rite Tradition / Ritual in Excilior | World Anvil

Ascension Rite

Peace by combat

he Ascension Rite is a formalized set of rules that has been deployed, by various cultures, in many regions, throughout numerous time periods, but always with a single intention: to assure the smoothest possible transition of power from the previous (presumably, deceased) ruler to the next. It is also the physical manifestation of the fact that casterway cultures, in general, tend to reject the concept of monarchic succession by birthright.
Fight for the Throne
At its core, it is a tournament of combat, fought simultaneously and to the death, by two or more claimants to the throne. This combat is also joined by a representative sample of their vassals - but the number of arbyrkin on any side is tightly controlled by the Ascendant Council. Because of its widespread use, the Rite's particulars have varied wildly. But a general set of ideals have defined it, no matter where it is utilized.   Over millennia, the Rite has acquired a near-mythical quality. It is often portrayed in folk tales as a bloody, barbaric free-for-all in which the strongest and most violent seize the throne through the butchery of all who dare oppose them. In practice, the Rite has survived for so long, in one form or another, precisely because it has been so effective at frequently avoiding any bloodshed whatsoever. But regardless of the tactical reality, the idea of armed combat, organized by the state and conducted for the purpose of awarding the ultimate prize, is a rhetorical device that tempts any bard to embellish the details.


uld Cervia splintered into numerous smaller nations in 479 AoC, signaling the end of the Age of Cervia and the dawn of the Age of Expansion. There were a great many factors contributing to this epic collapse, but one of them was certainly the recurring conflict surrounding succession rights.
Right of Succession
Auld Cervia never recognized a Rite of succession. After their system of tribal councils became problematic with an exploding population, they deployed a process of elective monarchy. Queens were anointed, and at times, the daughters of those queens became the next monarchs. But it was never assumed - even by the queens themselves - that their children had any absolute right to the throne once they were gone.
Power Struggles
This process served the ancient society well for more than 200 years. It wasn't until the latter half of the fifth century - when the potential candidates had grown powerful in their own right and were not content to leave their fates in the hands of the council - that the model of elective succession became problematic. This reached its peak in 479 AoC when several candidates for the thrown conspired to have the entire council slaughtered in the tragic events of the Evyrnight. The result was a political and social fracturing of the entire nation that signaled the fall of an empire amidst a vicious struggle for power.   When the new nations, borne from the rubble of Auld Cervia, eventually found themselves facing their own renewed struggles of succession, a concerted effort was made between politicians, religious leaders, and cognoscenti to devise a more efficient and peaceful means by which to assure the transfer of power. That new process was known as the Ascension Rite.
The First Rite
he first practical implementation of the Rite was in Ponia, in 503 AoE. The previous ruler, Nessa Nichols, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 33. This left an awkward power vacuum similar to those that had previously occurred. But the country's power brokers had already been planning and debating, for some time, just how this process should be conducted ever since the founding of Ponia. In fact, they had gone so far as to aggressively socialize the concept to anyone who cared about Ponian politics. The result was the first Ascension Rite. And while the first implementation didn't go off without a few hiccups, it was close-enough to success that it quickly became a national standard.
Widespread Adoption
But this process was not solely a Ponian convention. Ideas on this Rite had been cross-pollinating between Ponia and other like-minded nations for the better part of two decades. So once their neighbors took note of the first successful Rite, many of them quickly followed suit.   Since that first Rite, it has never totally gone away. Some nations and cultures have never adopted it. At times, even those nations that employed it have scrapped it entirely. But there are also times when some of those same nations have resurrected the process. More common is that the Rite never truly disappears - it just morphs into another different-but-recognizable variant of the original idea.

Popularity & Success
he Rite has enjoyed broad adoption and extended use because it's frequently viewed as an effective (and popular) mechanism. Many casterway societies share a distaste for the process of succession by birthright. Those same societies understand that, if there are no formal-and-accepted rules for the transfer of power, the passing of every leader is likely to be followed by war and political strife. The Ascension Rite is seen as an "acceptable" level of bloodshed in lieu of a broad-scale conflict.
Consent of the Ruled
Cognoscenti who've studied its history suggest that its success is not owed to any specific rule or custom within the Rite. Rather, the more important feature is that, starting well before the first Rite in 655 AoE, its proponents embarked upon one of civilization's first true "marketing campaigns". They went to great lengths to socialize the idea - and all of its underlying machinations - throughout Ponia before they ever needed to put it into practice. This had the desired effect of ensuring that the population didn't simply understand the Rite. They generally agreed with it and thought of it as an inherently fair process.   Public acceptance of the Rite was crucial. Once the public had embraced it, that meant that, if any marauding warlord tried to subvert its practice by simply storming the capital with a guerrilla force, they would be faced with the situation of subjugating a hostile populace. The thinking amongst many of the commonfolk is simply: "If you wanted to seize power by force, you already had an accepted means by which you could do that. So if you still insisted on assaulting the nation without participating in the Ascension Rite, you're a coward. And you're unfit to rule."
Stability Via Bloodshed
Indeed, there has been some historical analysis indicating that nations using some form of this Rite experience fewer instances of armed coups over extended historical periods. That's not to say that no one ever tries to game the system. And the Rite itself has a long history of devious political and military manipulations. But those who advocate for the Rite typically point out that they are fine with such manipulations happening during the Rite itself. Given that the Rite is, essentially, a ritualized battle for the throne, they are happy to know that such wartime subterfuges are being deployed within the confines of the Rite.
Weeding Out Challengers
Perhaps the most obvious reason for calmer times following a Rite is the fact many of the most-viable challengers to power were killed in the last cycle. And the challengers who weren't killed are only alive because they couldn't muster enough support to give them a fighting chance during the Rite. This tends to discourage the cycle of constant uprisings and jockeying for the throne that can occur once a new monarch has only-recently risen to power.
espite some tangible reasons to count the Rite as a success, some began calling for its abolishment almost from the time of its first adoption. Inevitably, the process strikes some as barbaric. And in fact, some nations have abandoned the Rite, or even gone so far as to formally outlaw its use. Then again, some of those same nations have reinstated it - especially after they endured a rather bloody-and-protracted power struggle.
Bloody Spectacle
Some of the loudest objections are of those who decry the pure spectacle of it. Rites are held in open, public spaces - typically arenas. Tickets are sold - and those tickets are in high demand. Droves of onlookers flock to the capital to enjoy the festivities. The epic moment, when only one aspirant stands amongst the blood and gore of their would-be competitors, is cherished by commonfolk. And yet it's this precise moment that engenders the greatest unease amongst others.
Secret Rites
Nations have occasionally experimented with Rites that are held in closed settings. The idea is that the process is somewhat less barbaric if it's not the centerpiece of a bloody festival. But the consensus is that this approach backfires. A key factor in the Rite's ongoing success is the avid support of the people - the same people who will be ruled by the winning aspirant. And those people tend to adore the public aspect. Once this is taken away, they no longer feel the same sense of awe and respect for the winning aspirant and they're much more likely to foment rebellion amongst their ranks. They're also more likely to subscribe to wild conspiracy theories when they couldn't actually see the Rite playing out before their eyes. The new leader emerging from a private Rite is immediately seen as less-than-legitimate by their subjects.
Leaders Lost
Many cognoscenti have also lamented the sheer loss of potential that often occurs during Rites. History is full of young, promising, beloved, and charismatic souls who were widely-believed to be on a path to great leadership - until they were slain in a Rite. Tales overflow with "what-if" lamentations over "Brave Soul So-and-So" who could have done so much for their people, if only they hadn't fallen during a Rite. On the other hand, there are also many well-documented cretins who met their doom in a failed attempt to win a Rite.   Ultimately, Ascension Rites have waned, somewhat, in popularity. They are certainly used far less today than they were a couple thousand years ago. But they're far from dead. And many of Excilior's greatest societies still consider them to be a vital political tool.


Apportioning the Arbyrkin
n the morning of the Rite, each of the aspirants reports to the Ascendant Council. Here they learn exactly how many of their arbyrkin will be allowed to accompany them into combat. Even though aspirants are required to launch their candidacy with 98 physical troops standing behind them before the Council, in practical reality they will never be allowed to bring their full compliment of troops into the Rite. This is because each aspirant's compliment is determined by the strength (in numbers) of their own backers throughout the countryside in relation to the strength of all other aspirants. This is easier explained through a few examples.   Scenario 1: 3 aspirants, collectively backed by 10,000 arbyrkin throughout the nation.
  1. 1st aspirant
    Backed by 7,000 arbyrkin
    Can bring 69 arbyrkin to the Rite
  2. 2nd aspirant
    Backed by 2,000 arbyrkin
    Can bring 19 arbyrkin to the Rite
  3. 3rd aspirant
    Backed by 1,000 arbyrkin
    Can bring 9 arbyrkin to the Rite
Scenario 2: 5 aspirants, collectively backed by 10,000 arbyrkin throughout the nation.
  1. 1st aspirant
    Backed by 3,000 arbyrkin
    Can bring 29 arbyrkin to the Rite
  2. 2nd aspirant
    Backed by 2,900 arbyrkin
    Can bring 28 arbyrkin to the Rite
  3. 3rd aspirant
    Backed by 2,100 arbyrkin
    Can bring 20 arbyrkin to the Rite
  4. 4th aspirant
    Backed by 1,200 arbyrkin
    Can bring 11 arbyrkin to the Rite
  5. 5rd aspirant
    Backed by 800 arbyrkin
    Can bring 7 arbyrkin to the Rite
Scenario 3: 4 aspirants, collectively backed by 10,000 arbyrkin throughout the nation.
  1. 1st aspirant
    Backed by 2,700 arbyrkin
    Can bring 26 arbyrkin to the Rite
  2. 2nd aspirant
    Backed by 2,600 arbyrkin
    Can bring 25 arbyrkin to the Rite
  3. 3rd aspirant
    Backed by 2,400 arbyrkin
    Can bring 23 arbyrkin to the Rite
  4. 4th aspirant
    Backed by 2,300 arbyrkin
    Can bring 22 arbyrkin to the Rite

Culling the Troops
he aspirants then return to their supporting arbyrkin and choose those that will accompany them into the Rite. The dismissed arbyrkin, after being copiously thanked for their service, are escorted away from the city. They will not be allowed to witness the proceedings. This is done for the safety of those arbyrkin who will not be involved in the combat, as well as for the safety of everyone else in attendance. If their aspirant should lose during the Rite, the armed warriors who originally arrived, with the intention of fighting until death, can become an awkward presence in the city - for everyone involved.

Presenting the Aspirants
he chosen arbyrkin are led to the arena by their champion. Once on the premises, they are only allowed to enter in a specific order, and by a careful process.   The first aspirant allowed in the arena will be that which was apportioned the greatest number of arbyrkin. After they march onto the empty floor of the arena, the aspirant is given a final chance to abandon the Rite. If they stay, along with their fellow arbyrkin, there will be no exit unless they are crowned the new ruler - or they are dead. At this point, there is no logical reason why the first arena entrant would conceivably bow out.
Chance to Withdraw
The second aspirant allowed entry will be that which was apportioned the second-greatest number of arbyrkin. When they march onto the floor of the arena, this is the first time that they will see the relative strength of the first force aligned against them. This aspirant is also given a final chance to abandon the Rite - but their response may be far different than that of the first aspirant, who is already standing in the arena with their troops. If the second aspirant sees that they are badly outnumbered by the first, it's entirely possible that they decide to preserve their own life - and that of their arbyrkin - rather than commence their own pointless slaughter.   Whether the second aspirant abandons the Rite or not, the process of presentation will continue until all aspirants have been introduced to the arena and have had a chance to either confirm their commitment or abandon the Rite. It will continue in reverse order, from the largest contingent to the smallest, until all aspirants have had a chance to make their final choice. The aspirant allowed the smallest compliment of arbyrkin will always be the last one to lead their troops into the arena.
Avoiding Bloodshed
It's in this final decision that the Rite does its best job of either avoiding conflict altogether, or at least limiting the number of combatants who are willing to risk their lives in the melee. After the strongest candidate has taken their position in the arena, the resulting optics can be extremely disconcerting for the remaining aspirants. In many cases, a single aspirant has compiled a proportional force that inspires all the others to abandon their ambitions.   Given the scenarios above, this is how the process would normally play out.   Scenario 1: A peaceful resolution
  1. 1st aspirant enters the arena with 70 total warriors.
  2. 2nd aspirant is badly outnumbered and concedes with no loss of life.
  3. 3rd aspirant is badly outnumbered and concedes with no loss of life.
Scenario 2: Combat commences, but some bloodshed is avoided
  1. 1st aspirant enters the arena with 30 total warriors.
  2. 2nd aspirant is close enough in strength that they will not abandon the Rite.
  3. 3rd aspirant will probably abandon the Rite - it all depends on their confidence, ambition, and foolhardiness.
  4. 4th aspirant is badly outnumbered and concedes with no loss of life.
  5. 5rd aspirant is badly outnumbered and concedes with no loss of life.
Scenario 3: Armageddon
  1. 1st aspirant enters the arena with 27 total warriors.
  2. 2nd aspirant is close enough in strength that they will not abandon the Rite,
  3. 3rd aspirant is close enough in strength that they will not abandon the Rite,
  4. 4th aspirant is close enough in strength that they will not abandon the Rite,

nce the aspirants have all been given the chance to abandon their claim, the remaining candidates finally commence combat. The actual process of combat has taken many forms over the millennia. The arenas themselves can vary substantially - from open outdoor settings on cleared fields, to labyrinthine subterranean obstacle courses - and those differences can have massive impacts on the melee itself. Weapons and melee tactics are deeply influenced by time periods and cultural norms. But there are a series of standards that are almost always the same from one Ascension Rite to another - even those separated by thousands of kilometers, or thousands of years.
  • Aspirants must always be personally involved in the Rite.
    They cannot simply send in their arbyrkin and wait on the sidelines for the result. Once they are in the arena and the melee has begun, there's no effective way to actually make an aspirant fight. And some hopefuls have been content to hang behind while their troops conduct the battle in front of them. But ultimately, they must be in the fighting area for the entire contest, and they are always fair-game to be attacked directly, assuming their opponents can reach them.
  • Each aspirant's claim is only valid as long as that aspirant is alive.
    That may sound obvious, but once an aspirant is slain, any of their remaining, living arbyrkin must immediately leave the arena. There are no conventions whereby the remaining arbyrkin can substitute a new aspirant, in the event that their contestant is slain. That's why they are removed from the battlefield as soon as their aspirant has been killed. This also lends itself to the Rite sometimes resembling "capture the flag", or, if you will, "kill the flag". An opposing aspirant can be removed from contention by killing all of their arbyrkin, and then killing the aspirant. Or that same aspirant can be removed from contention merely by killing the aspirant directly (followed by any of the aspirant's arbyrkin being removed from the battle entirely). So if an opportunity exists to take out an opposing aspirant directly, that is always the preferred path.
  • There are never any reprieves or "mercy rules".
    Every aspirant - and their accompanying arbyrkin - had the opportunity to abandon the Rite before fighting even began. Once the Rite begins, that means that all remaining claimants have affirmed their desire to participate - to the death, if necessary. For aspirants, there are only two ways to get out of the arena. They will either be the last living aspirant in the Rite and they will ascend to the throne, or they will be killed and dragged out as a corpse. For arbyrkin, they can escape the arena by A) killing all the other competitors, thus assuring that the combat ends and their chosen leader takes the throne, B) being killed and dragged out on a stretcher, or C) living long enough to see their own aspirant slain, which means that they will be immediately removed from the Rite without engaging in any further combat.
  • All participants fight with the same weapon, and they are fitted with the same armor.
    The exact weapon is not standard. It typically follows cultural norms. But great care is taken to ensure that no one wins the Rite based mostly - or solely - on the simple fact of having better or more advanced equipment.

he final path to victory is rather straightforward. Each aspirant, with their supporting arbyrkin, proceed to fight to the death until there is only one aspirant remaining. In a handful of rare and dramatic scenarios, this has concluded with two remaining aspirants - and no one else - fighting to the death for ultimate victory. But given that the melee begins with as-many-as 100 combatants, it is rare that it concludes in such a storybook manner. Much more likely is that one aspirant, with a cadre of remaining arbyrkin, seizes tactical advantage and manages to wipe out the other aspirants before all of the other supporting combatants are dead.   The final act in every Ascension Rite that has proceeded to the combat phase is for the second-to-last aspirant to be slain. Once this happens, a great roar erupts from the arena, all fighting immediately ceases, and the victorious aspirant commences the process of ascending to the throne.


espite some wild suggestions to the contrary, Ascension Rites are not open to any layperson or common peasant who feels inclined to hoist a weapon and step into the arena. Quite the opposite. The aspirants are only allowed to compete after being thoroughly vetted by a trusted board known as an Ascendant Council. There is no prescribed size or makeup of such a Council, but they are typically large and they make every effort to include representative leadership from every major channel of public life. Their membership can exceed 100. The cognoscenti routinely occupy the largest portion of their seats, but they also include lords, dignitaries, scions of commerce, respected philosophers, national heroes, and any other respected members of the encompassing culture.
At the Ready
These Councils never truly disband, meeting occasionally, and informally, a few times each year, even when there is no reason to believe that the current ruler will be gone any time soon. But once there is a vacancy on the throne, the Council kicks into high gear. They meet immediately - typically within hours of the previous ruler's demise. If said ruler succumbed to a long-and-foreseeable illness, the Council will already have been conducting frequent meetings to make proper preparations for the inevitable need to transfer power.   A great herd of messengers is dispatched to every corner of the nation, alerting all potential aspirants that now is the time to come before the Council and make their candidacy known. This is where the real work of the Council comes into focus.
An "Open" Process
In theory, anyone can come before the Council to state their case. But in practice, anyone not already holding a certain societal status knows that such an effort is a fool's errand. Nevertheless, the pool of "viable" candidates can still be substantial, and it's the Council's explicit task to verify the aspirants' status and, most importantly, to verify their claims of backing among their arbyrkin.   Verifying status is usually straightforward. Most of the accepted aspirants will already have been known to most, or all, of the Council members. There are notable exceptions to this, but generally speaking, those recognized as having a valid case for the throne will already be recognized - and accepted - by a majority of the Council members.
Confirming Support
Verifying those aspirants' support is much trickier. When the aspirants present themselves for consideration, they are also required to state, unambiguously, how many vassals support their bid - and, by extension, how many of the vassals' arbyrkin can be counted under the aspirant's potential army. The easiest way to verify the aspirant's claims is for them to be accompanied by significant representation from their vassals and their vassals' arbyrkin, who can attest, directly to the Council, that they stand behind the aspirant. When someone claims, for example, that Paryn Arbyr stands behind them, and would back up that support with 1,000 troops if called upon, there is no better proof than having the head of Paryn Arbyr standing right there, stating the same thing and confirming that the aspirant's claims are true. But this is not always feasible. Too often, the aspirant stands before the Council and states, on their word alone, that a given arbyr is behind them. From there, it is up to the Council to confirm or disprove such claims.   The subsequent days are frantic for the Council as they work day-and-night to confirm every aspirant's claim. Messengers are dispatched. Frantic journeys are commenced. They do absolutely everything in their power to ensure that no one has claimed support that doesn't actually exist.   Thirty days after the last aspirant's claim has been accepted, and sixty says since the throne was originally vacated, the Council alerts all successful aspirants and, on the sixty-first day, the Rite itself commences.

here are no rigid rules as to who can be accepted as an aspirant. Nor are there any limits to the number of aspirants that can participate in a Rite. It is all up to the discretion of the Council. But they tend to be liberal with participants. The thinking is that it's better to allow too many (ill-prepared) aspirants into the Rite, than to eliminate potentially-viable leaders who could mount a rebellion if they're excluded from it. By deploying a lenient approach, it means that there will be far fewer people to dispute the outcome after the Rite's completion - because if they followed the Rite to its logical end and they did not win, they will be dead.
The Traditional "Heirs"
The most obvious source of aspirants is that of the previous ruler's family. And while history certainly contains examples of a given monarch's child winning the Ascension Rite after that monarch has passed, it is not a particularly common occurrence. Many children of privilege are not keen on the idea that the Rite could lead to their death. Others are all-too-eager to dive into battle - but their petulance does not inspire anyone to stand behind them. So while some who would traditionally be thought of as "heirs" have certainly ascended to the throne, they have only done so when they can demonstrate other, tangible influence and leadership qualities.   Outside of the monarchical line, additional aspirants most frequently arise from several sources: The ambitious offspring of other power arbyrs. The youthful heirs to powerful merchant empires. Military commanders. Those who have already enjoyed success in the political arena.   Although there is no rigid template of what an aspirant is, it's pretty simple to determine what an aspirant is not. Aspirants are never cognoscenti. They rarely, if ever, hail from purely intellectual endeavors. They are almost never poor. They rarely rise from the working classes - unless some spectacular turn of fortune has brought them fame and and status. They are never artists or entertainers.
Ideal Candidates
Instead, they are those who already have some degree of success (and thus, public support). They are born of privilege, or they have managed, somehow during the course of their lives, to climb the social ladder and put themselves in a position of privilege. They need not be outright wealthy, but they undoubtedly have the means to move comfortably amongst the rich. And more than anything, they are obviously outwardly ambitious.
Race to the Capital
While it's theoretically possible for a great many candidates to declare themselves as aspirants, practical realities can severely limit the potential pool of applicants. This is because, once the Ascendant Council has formally commenced it's proceedings, would-be aspirants have a strict limit of half a month (30 days) to declare their candidacy. Candidates must always appear before the Council in person. And it must always be within the 30-day time frame. These time constraints are adhered to religiously. There are few examples throughout history, regardless of country or time period, when these rules have been relaxed, even in the slightest, for anyone.   This aspect of the guidelines was implemented with specific forethought. The original architects of the Rite were keen to avoid a scenario whereby would-be claimants are still filtering in months - even years - after the previous ruler has passed. The thinking goes that, if you someone truly desires to lead the nation, then they should make a point not to stray too far from the capital - especially in a ruler's later years - because the realm cannot afford to wait in limbo while every possible candidate slowly plods to where the Ascension Rite will be held.

rbyrkin are often the most overlooked cog in the entire Ascension Rite - yet they are also the most critical. Centuries after a given Rite has passed, songs will be written for the successful aspirant (and maybe a few for the not-so-successful), but few will remember the arbyrkin who answered the call - some of whom may not have survived the ordeal.
Credit Check
Their first contribution is that of a living, breathing "credit check". No one can be confirmed as an aspirant without first presenting themselves, before the Ascendant Council, with exactly 98 arbyrkin behind them. By virtue of their presence, those arbyrkin are not simply pledging hypothetical support. They are there to fight alongside their candidate - to the death, if need be - during the Rite itself. This requirement alone goes a long way toward weeding out all of the kooks and harebrained schemers who wouldn't otherwise be thought of as having any legitimate business being on-or-near the throne. Of course, these arbyrkin are actually representative of a much larger hypothetical force that presumably backs the aspirant. But once the Rite commences, the aspirant's arbyrkin won't be representative of anything, or hypothetical in any way. They will be combatants committed to fight until their aspirant is victorious - or until they're dead.   And therein lies the greater purpose of the arbyrkin. Ultimately, if the Rite is carried through to its logical conclusion, the vast majority of souls squaring off in mortal combat won't be the aspirants themselves - but their arbyrkin. In theory, there could be 99 people killed by the time that a single Ascension Rite has concluded - and 98 of those could be the arbyrkin of the winning aspirant.
uhh-SENT-chun RITE
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