This article was first broadcast in Episode Forty-Two on 26th September 2018.
Ryu: I’m so sick of kings and queens
Lennon: No European vacation for you then?
Ryu: No, I mean, I don’t mind them as people but every campaign you run into the land is ruled over by “king” this or “queen” that. Even when we were running through this jungle of sentient monkey-lizards they ended up being led by “Duke Longtail.” It was kind of disappointing.
Ostron: Oh, well, a little bit of linguistic modification is in order then.
Along with scenery and inhabitants, names have a huge impact on immersion and characters’ sense of displacement. Characters are more quickly put at ease if they wander into town and see an “Inn” sign hanging outside of a building; they automatically know where to go for food, lodging, and possibly local rumors.
But if characters are well off the beaten path, it’s sometimes helpful to change more than the environment they’re living in. As we discussed way back, most people use European royal titles and peerage systems when they’re setting up the ruling class or ruling family of an area. But the world has many, many more options of what to call and even how to structure feudal systems of government and we’ll present some of them here.
A note – if you are creating a feudal system and using these verbatim please be conscious of your audience. Some of the titles have cultural and historical baggage associated with them. For example, “Caliph” is an ancient title for a religious and governmental figure in the middle east, but it has a lot of subtext for people in that area and some Muslims. Closer to home, “Kaiser” is simply the common German term for emperor, but after the World Wars it has some more negative connotations. We’re not going to patronize and tell people what they should or shouldn’t use in their campaigns, but we ask that everyone be mindful of the histories and cultures associated with those terms.
We’re also going to be simplifying a lot of these and leaving out some of the more complex titles and organizations so history buffs, please forgive us. Oh, and pronunciation is likely to go straight out the window.
We’ll start with the Ottoman empire, which is modern-day Turkey for those unfamiliar. The person in charge of that had several titles depending on what period in history you’re looking at, but the most well known one is Sultan. The person in charge was officially called Sultan (person’s name) Khan. Sultan (name) is a prince of the family, (name) sultan is a princess. Veliahd is the person who’s going to succeed the Sultan. The “imperial consort” was called Haseki Sultan. Helping the Sultan were multiple Viziers (not all of them are evil), with the one in charge being the Sadrazam.
Outside of the palace and royal family, Beylerbei were provincial governors, with several Beys subordinate to them and Aghas below them.
If you go back in time to when the area of the Ottoman Empire was actually Persia, you have the Shahan Shah in charge, with the Shahzada ready to inherit when daddy Shah gave up the ghost. The people in charge of their provinces were called Marzpans (note, there is no “i” in that word) or Khshathrapavan [kusha-tra-pavan]. Below them are the Sirdar, with the Mir below them.
Farther south and further back in time, you have our friends the Egyptians. Most people know about the Pharoah, but if you ask about anyone below that people tend to get lost. The truth is that there wasn’t much below the pharoah in terms of hierarchy. The chief adviser to the Pharoah was the tjatay, and between them they handled all the news coming from the Heri Sepat, or provincial governors. The Haty were equivalent to mayors.
If you look at the titles in India it gets confusing quickly because they have a huge number of them. There’s a reason for this, and we British firmly do not want to talk about it. However, if you want to set up a peerage system with Indian titles, it’s probably easiest to put the Maharaja at the top married to the Maharani. The child that will inherit is addressed as the Majaraj, but the title is Maharaj Kumar for a male and Maharaj Kumari for female.
Below that it’s a shambles but a hierarchy that probably won’t offend too many historians would be Raja or Rana, followed by Thakur, Rao, and Rai.
Moving across the globe, the ancient Incan civilization was headed up by the Sapa Inca, who would be married to the Coya. Their primary heir was granted the title Auqyi. Below them were three levels of nobility – Capacs, Huhua, and Curacas, respectively.
Hopping across the pacific, the feudal Japan that everyone likes to romanticize was headed up by a Shogun. Technically the Shogun was subordinate to the Japanese Emperor, but there was a heavy emphasis on ‘technically’ for a long time. Below the Shogun were the Daimyo, followed by the Samurai. Most of those were actually military titles, but when the military is in control of the government, they become titles of nobility.
Rounding off our tour with a personal favorite, on the Korean peninsula the feudal emperor had the title Taewang, with the Wangs, or local kings, below them. The heir was the Daegun, with the other children of the ruler having the title Wangja-gun. Most of the other nobility had the simple “gun” title, but for the periods of time when they bothered to separate the lower ranks, they were Gukgong, Gungong, Hyeonhu, Hyeonbaek, Gaegukja, and Hyeonnam.
I’ll note that China definitely had a feudal system, but it was insanely complicated and the titles usually translated to complete sentences. They also completely reorganized every couple hundred years. So we recommend doing your own research if you want the details there.
As we said, we have probably misrepresented a few of the hierarchies and titles along the way, and we’ve almost definitely butchered pronunciations, but if you want to throw some titles other than “King” or “Duke” on your nobility and you don’t want to make them up completely, hopefully this will help you out.
Ryu: Okay, this is great. No more boring nobility for me!
Lennon: There is something to be said for the classics though.
Ostron: Do you want me to bring up Charles?
Lennon: Okay, you don’t need to get nasty.