Imperial Taean (Tay-en)
Of all the states, the Taean can boast of theirs having the most longevity; the empire has existed continuously for over five centuries now. Unfortunately, many within it point to that longevity and argue vehemently against change, lest it destroy what has persisted for so long. While the world moves on, the Taean stubbornly remain rooted in the past. Frequently accused of being isolationist, the Taean traffic in goods using their own merchants though the volume of their cargoes cannot compete with the Hamelin caravans, more recently, Syadtar and Meridian trading houses. In reality, isolationism isn't the cause, as much as the refusal of many foreign merchants to pander to restrictive caste rules and traditions. Taean traders are often crippled by numerous ancient rules restricting what they can trade, in specific quantities, along specific routes, all in contravention of current circumstances. Generous topography is the only reason why the Taean remain secure; a limited number of mountain passes permit entry into the empire’s heartlands, allowing them to garrison them all heavily. Culturally, Taean has deep traditions rooted in writing and performance, alongside a spirit of warrior culture. The state has always embraced the use of magic, and rituals feature it heavily, but the secretiveness with which the clans disguise and obfuscate their magic users as protection against each other makes it difficult for the state to make effective use of magic in defense. Magic users who have been “outed” sometimes leave the nation to become adventurers, so that they cannot be conscripted into the court. While many cultures and nations are wary of Light magic users due to the potential destructive power, the Taean embrace the Affinity with no distinction from the rest. While the people are generally conservative in nature, frequent festivals provide opportunities for relaxation. Humans make up the vast majority of the empire, but sizable populations of Taenaran elves can be found within these borders, as the Miuda consider them favourably. Another relatively large population is the Bloodfallen, for they are regarded with less fear within the Taean, even if they are still not thought of fondly. Small populations of Luirlan elves can be found within the northern forested lands. Starting suggestions for an origin in the Imperial Taean:
- You're a magic user whose secret has been blown! In order to escape rival houses, you take on the life of an adventurer.
- Your family's adherence to tradition has forced you into an arranged marriage you're not at all interested in. Time to leave!
- You were born into the Craft caste, but your heart lies in adventuring! Warriors, come out to play!
- You were born in the Warrior Caste and you dream of well-plowed fields and a bountiful harvest.
The longevity of the Taean state is often marveled at; not strictly due to the number of years which is admittedly impressive, but that it has managed to survive arguably in spite of its own best efforts over the centuries. Nominally, the Taean have a strictly delineated caste society where an Emperor rules the state with near-absolute power, but the reality is significantly messier. While the Emperor does have access to the state treasury, can appoint officials across the empire, reward and punish clans, and all the other trappings one would expect from a head of state, the clans have significantly more autonomy and power than the nobility of most centralised nations. The Imperial Court carries out the will of the Emperor according to decrees made; the court is managed by the senior relative of the current Emperor and serves as an extension of their clan. Should a different clan take power it generally means the entirety of the senior government staff change as well, which can make continuity difficult as an entire upper echelon of staff must simultaneously learn how to perform their new roles. The stability of the state then rests on the lower-tier institutional workers; the Celestial Bureaucracy carries out the day-to-day work of the Empire in accordance with the Emperor’s wishes – as conveyed through their Minister. Commoners are permitted to occupy the lower tiers of the Bureaucracy, provided they manage to acquire a spot in the yearly Examination. Only a select number of slots are offered, and nominations are generally provided by the local Magistrate under fierce competition; upper class clans have their own allotments to ensure that a suitable number of sons and daughters can be put forth for the testing. Many who have no intention of going into the Celestial Bureaucracy, but have the means to secure a testing slot, undergo the Examination anyway; it is seen as a mark of prestige and learning.
The Imperial CourtServing the Emperor directly and managing the running of the Imperial Court is the High Chancellor, who also functions as one of the three Lords of the Court and is responsible for the ministries of Rites and State Affairs. Their fellow Lords include the High Justice responsible for the ministries of Law, Revenue, and the High Commandant who oversees the ministries of War, and Public Works. These three Lords and six Ministries with their clan-based senior bureaucrats are largely responsible for interpreting the will of the Emperor into practical policy and drawing up plans to implement it. A position as a Lord of the Court or one of the senior ministers beneath them is highly coveted, as the position often brings great personal wealth; within the bounds of the law or otherwise. Corruption at the Court is generally tolerated, having almost become an institution itself at this point after so many centuries. Indeed, people become suspicious when a senior official appears to not be indulging in self-enrichment; only a few are known to be such honest souls that they can manage to navigate the complex, churning waters of the Court without dipping into wells they should not. Even these individuals rarely make any effort to stop the practice, or bring it to someone’s attention. So long as an official does not become greedy to the detriment of their ministry or the state, these things are overlooked. Considered within the Court then are the three Lords, six Ministers, twelve Vice-Ministers who each may have several clerks and secretaries. While their exact titles can vary, it makes it clear that they are attached to either a Minister or Vice-Minister directly.
The Celestial BureaucracyAside from those who personally work with the Lords and the Ministers, there exists a multitude of clerks, record-keepers, stationary-keepers, officials of rites, judges, tax collectors, senior military commanders and all the other officials who keep an empire running; these are the members of the Celestial Bureaucracy. These officials tend to be professional paper-pushers, all have become qualified under the Examination system, and most come from the middle-to-upper classes. The only potential exception to the Examinations are senior military soldiers; occasionally a High Commandant has appointed someone to their staff who comes from a clan of high standing but never completed the exams. This is generally considered uncouth and the unlucky soldier will find most bureaucrats go out of their way to make life difficult for the “outsider”. Preparing for the Examination takes upwards of ten years of strenuous study, and it is generally resented by those who took the Exam to achieve status and employment when one comes along who makes similar gains without having been through the system. Like their overseers, bureaucrats expect to do well by themselves in positions of power; their gains are comparatively modest compared to those on the Court. Commoners in the Bureaucracy in particular need to ensure their income remains within modest boundaries; they are tolerated as they earned their place through the Examination, but that does not mean they are particularly well liked by their more noble compatriots. There are four levels one can be appointed to within the Bureaucracy, commoners are restricted to the fourth level. Despite the enrichment, many of the lifelong bureaucrats and their court masters do put in considerable efforts in keeping the Taean state running and even find time and enthusiasm to make small improvements and reforms.
Taean society is divided into four distinct classes, with which there can be no sanctioned intermarriage, nor can one rise in station except by direct decree of the Emperor; an event so rare entire generations can pass without it occurring once. The social classes, in order of importance are the Warriors, the Crafters, the Farmers, and the Merchants. Though the Taean have not fought any major wars in over a century the culture remains highly martial in nature. Families are generally organised into Clans, it is considered a black mark in society if your family does not have a hierarchy above it which is responsible for your role and place in society. Merchant clans are generally thought of as money-obsessed and are looked down on by much of society, which is one of the reasons the Taean struggles to bring in any real revenue through taxation of trade; only foreign merchants generally result in tariffs and those can only be so high before those merchants will no longer risk the journey. Most Taean merchants tend to remain within the Empire, conducting trade across Taean land or selling goods in town or village stores. Merchants resent their treatment, arguing that many of the goods that the upper classes wish to purchase are only found in Taean lands due to their investment. Merchant children are the most likely of the lower three classes to take the Examination, as these clans are the only ones that typically have the money to hire tutors and gain the necessary materials in order to study for the tests. Farmers and their clans make up the vast majority of the agriculture-dominated Empire; these people are typically hard-working but live better lives than some lower classes elsewhere, in part due to not being “socially” at the bottom of the ladder. Farming is esteemed as one of the core foundations of Taean society, particularly the cultivation of rice, wheat and barley. More well-off farming clans often have orchards or more difficult to cultivate plants that require irrigation works. Clans can petition the High Commandant at the Court under their auspice of Public Works for labour or funds to develop land; typically this will be provided without direct cost, but the yearly taxes levied will be increased for a time to pay back what is essentially a loan. Guilds are abundant throughout Taean for craftsmen and their clans; it is often said that there are many guilds as there are clans. Guilds apply for recognition to the Court and are granted a monopoly over their craft in a specific region, including the right to allow others to practice it, or to charge fees for doing so. The more powerful the guild, the more it expects to pay in both over-and-under the table fees to the Court for its exclusivity; as there is a yearly fee to maintain its position, theoretically to try and prevent complacency and stagnation. It is rare, but occasionally one clan has out-bid a rival for the yearly fee, and usurped the guild control. Particularly powerful guilds include Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Paper-makers and Salt-Dealers. These organisations are generally able to set prices for their given region, but guild-exempt merchants can pose problems should they price too highly; certain merchants are granted the right to sell guild-run goods without guild permission. Generally the taxes and costs imposed on these merchants keep them from impinging too highly on the ability of guilds to make profit, but it does impose some checks on the overall economic system. Officially the Warrior caste, the name is perhaps a misnomer as the Taean have not been to war in a hundred years. Instead, these martial clans have largely settled into peacetime in a complex system of oaths involving fiefs and vassals and function as the ruling class, and are the only caste not considered commoners. Every clan has a specific place in the hierarchy of the entire empire independent of their oath-bound lords and retainers; a combination of longevity, wealth, land, and great deeds in the past. The High Chancellor oversees the ranking of the clans as an aspect of the Ministry of Rites; it is one of the few things at the Court that it is absolutely taboo to try and influence through underhanded means. While highly unusual, it is possible for a higher-ranked clan to end up as vassals through oaths to a lower-ranked clan, this creates an almost farcical situation where both sides must treat each other with the utmost respect. In the end the oath proves more vital, and so the liege clan still commands the vassal, but the amount of deference shown on both sides borders on the absurd. In another absurdity, the warrior caste are the only members of Taean society that are fully endorsed to learn magic; while the commons are not explicitly banned from employing their Affinity or learning to use it, it is discouraged. Typically, commoners who find themselves yearning to develop their Affinity leave Taean to become adventurers elsewhere, or if wealthy enough will travel to Hamelin to learn. However, those that leave the country, especially to learn magic in a foreign land, are treated with suspicion and contempt by all levels of society should they return to live in the Empire. The reason why this becomes absurd is that due to the tendency of Taean clans to jealously guard secrets, and the power of magic users falls under information worth hoarding, almost no member of the Warrior caste will admit to, or practice using, magic. The Imperial Court requires the recording of all births in the Empire, and requires this record be updated with an Affinity when it manifests, but clans often submit fraudulent affinities in order to disguise their users, especially the coveted Shadow Affinity. The Empire is always short of healers and while it is not strictly forced, pressure is always exerted on those warrior caste members who manifest a Shadow Affinity to join a Temple to provide healing services. Most members of the warrior caste consider it a personal failure to have to rely on their magical abilities in combat, and frequently focus entirely on their martial prowess in order to continue to conceal their Affinity. Thus, the only class that can freely practice and learn magic is by convention barred from doing so; instruction is in secret with trusted clan members who pass their skills on to newer generations. This lack of coordination means magical knowledge in the Empire is largely stagnant, and that they have far fewer magi available to help with projects or in time of war compared to the other nations. Those who do become known to the Court as magic users of note often find themselves in high demand; those unfortunate enough for it to be discovered that they possess two Affinities will almost always be pressured into accepting a role as a personal retainer to one of the Ministers or to take the exams and become part of the Bureaucracy, so that the state can keep track of them and keep them close to hand. State magi are generally known as “Those Who Carry” or “The Burdened” by the populace, as they are few yet take on the vast majority of magical work done throughout the Empire. These overworked magi are a constant reminder to the rest of the Taean that Affinities generally only bring difficulty to their daily lives. Thus, not only is the state the least magically learned on the continent but its people are the least likely to turn to magic over the mundane; most with a Fire Affinity would sooner start a cookfire with a flint than turn to a simple cantrip.
Demography and Population
The majority population within the Empire are humans of the Miuda ethnicity, though a small number of Armagh or those with mixed blood from both have found themselves living in the borderlands. Though certainly not common, Taean boasts one of the largest populations of Taenaran elves within its borders. Often persecuted in other lands, the Taean consider them lucky and that crossing paths with one, especially outside of a town or city, means your future holds good things. A small populations of Luirlan elves can be found within the northern forested lands, though they rarely come into contact with the Taean government and the latter mostly leaves them alone, judging it not worth the hassle of trying to extend their governance to such small hamlets.
With nearly ten percent of its population in the warrior caste, Taean theoretically has access to the largest martially-trained force on the continent. Unfortunately, the theory fails to carry through to reality; many within the caste pursue other callings such as the priesthood or the Bureaucracy and neglect their martial commitments. Only a small palace guard protects the capital and the Emperor in person; the rest of the Taean military revolves around the warrior caste and the interlocking oaths and fealty that various clans have sworn to each other as liege and vassals, which again in theory all lines up under the Emperor as the supreme liege. The practical result of all of this is that certain clans are highly trained and geared for war, whereas many that are this on paper can only muster a small force, and supplement this with largely untrained peasant levies. A few clans have mustered and routinely trained their peasantry, arguing that a peasant who can hold a spear well is of more value than one who simply holds the spear, but this is generally not encouraged by the rulers as it is seen as eroding the foundation of the warrior caste’s role. Thus, to begin a campaign the Emperor must first call the clans to war, and then take stock of what forces they are actually presented with, as opposed to what the recorded forces are. All manner of excuses can be offered in what amounts to a ritual itself, as to why the clan cannot provide what it says it can, and it rarely results in a loss of face; these things are to be expected after all. Should the nation itself be under threat the clans will provide more cooperation, though it is likely the peasantry will still need to be raised en masse. Under different circumstances Taean might well have been conquered long ago with such a dysfunctional military system, however the state is blessed with highly defensible natural borders that consist of mountains, cliffs, and narrow, easily defended passes. Border guards are employed directly as retainers of the current Imperial clan and are often commoners; the warrior caste are far too busy to spend all their time staring at a mountain pass waiting for an enemy that will likely never come. It is a common myth that only the warrior caste may carry a sword in Taean; while sword lengths are restricted by caste a farmer can carry a short blade should they feel the need. Many towns, including the capital, restrict the carrying of weapons by foreigners to nothing longer than a dagger; as a result it is difficult for adventurers to operate in the interior of the state. Exceptions to this generally require the permission of the local lord or the senior magistrate of the town and must be in writing; a pass of sorts which ensures a paper trail and who should be held liable in case of an incident. This requirement and the general distrust many have of outsiders means it is seldom granted. Usually if a local lord has need of adventurers they bring them into the state specifically for the task, supplying them with everything they need so that they need not visit a town, and then expecting them to leave when the job is complete. However, many of these same lords could simply call upon their own retainers to do the work that adventurers typically do in other states, so usually the latter are only used if deniability is important; which typically means the work is dangerous. One compromise that was made with respect to arms and the clans was the creation of the Imperial Navy which is managed by the clan currently holding the throne, into which a number of other wealthy clans donate resources and funds. While relatively small, certainly compared to Meridia’s Crimson Fleet, the Navy boasts some of the most effectively crewed and capable vessels afloat. Individually capable of going toe-to-toe with their counterparts from Meridia, the Fleet as a whole would fall woefully short of numbers to compete in a true contest for the seas. It does, however, serve as a useful check against potential seaborne invasion, which is mostly its intended purpose.
Though not enforced by the state, The Jade Path permeates throughout the Empire to such a wide degree that rarely does one find worshippers of a different faith. Somewhat similar to Virisen in that the Six Celestial Dragons, representing the magical elements, created the world. The Celestial Dragons then created the Jade Emperor, whom they placed in charge of mankind's afterlife, and the four Auspices which govern the four corners of the terrestrial world; The Vermillion Bird in the east, the White Tiger in the west, the Black Tortoise of the north and the Blue Wyrm of the south. The people themselves are largely removed from the act of worship, though, and temples are places for offerings to the ancestors or notable local spirits. Small shrines can be found dotting the countryside for offerings to be left for the spirit of the forest, or the mountain, in order to appease them. The Jade Path tells its followers that death is a gateway to a life not unlike the first, but under the benevolent and everlasting rule of the Jade Emperor. One prospers in the afterlife by the offerings of ones relatives; key to this is that an offering of an item on paper is as valuable as the offering of that physical item; ergo a piece of paper on which is drawn a necklace becomes a necklace for ones ancestors in the afterlife when given as an offering. Taean culture follows that the quality of the drawing therefore becomes commensurate with its value in the afterlife; a poorly drawn necklace becomes almost an insult when offered, but one done by an artist becomes an afterlife heirloom for an honored ancestor. These drawings are taken to a shrine and ritually burned in order to transport them to the heavens. Temples typically have a Shrine Priest or Priestess whose primary purpose is to guide those trying to make sacrifices in the proper rites and rituals to ensure their offering, and message, is received favourably by their ancestors. Certain days or times of the year are more auspicious depending on the ancestor trying to be reached, or the favour being asked of the wise dead, and the the priest or priestess can advise on how best to go about matters. If questions are being asked, they can also interpret the responses from the dead through the use of flat-sided carved rods about a quill's length that the individual making the offering can spin on a point before seeing how the ancestors cause the rod to fall.