Friday, January 11, 2019
World Building Vignette #1: The Town of Tabletop
Tabletop is a seagoing community, it's whole culture revolves around life at sea despite being ruled by a land based Empire. Several of the earliest Imperial magistrates were lost at sea which was predicted by the town's cults. These events created the odd situation where the one half of the town's leadership was held by a tribune appointed by the Empire and the second was often elected from and by the various priesthoods as the sacerdos.
This is not the normal state of affairs within the Tarnian Empire. Major cities are assigned 2 tribunes by either the Senate or the Emperor or Empress, with a three year service time. The Senate selects tributes in times of peace, while the Emperor or Empress acts in time of war.
The town of Tabletop is so far from the Capital, not only is it a poor backwater, the citizens are thought of as seditious, backstabbing traitors. The fact that the whole of the Empire's shipping passes through Tabletop requires a Tribune. Tribune assignments are viewed at best as a punishment and, at worst, a death sentence.
It is true that Tabletop is a relative backwater, but the citizens and townspeople are far from seditious. In times of war the town has been captured and the people have ousted these conquerors by trickery, sabotage and even murder. They are ruthlessly effective at returning to the Empire.
Because of these military threats to shipping the town is responsible for maintaining a cohort. With approximate 12,000 townspeople and most of those involved in sailing ventures, this is not possible at all times. In times of peace, the tribune has about 220 soldiers or guards at his disposal. Tabletop also has 15 regum antiquorum, or "Ancient Kings" who are required to provide approximately 100 soldiers for the cohort. The remaining soldiers are drawn from volunteer citizens, and traditionally they will provide enough men, women and even children to round out the cohort at 888 soldiers. Again, this is unique to Tabletop.
Once the cohort is on the move Tabletop is very vulnerable to capture. The cohort and the townspeople view this as a necessary evil, which explains the viciousness of the townsfolk towards invaders.
On a daily basis, the town supports a virtual cohort of sailors and marines, perhaps many more than 800. One tribune is permitted sea travel rights, while the other remains in town with the sacerdos as his or her second.
The sacerdos is responsible for the physical safety of the tribunes, his or her sailors and these tasks are a local tradition, not something found in the Imperial Tables of Laws. Tribunes are not normally assigned a bodyguard, but in Tabletop they are effectively surrounded by people who will defend them. Many public oaths involve loyalty the Tribunes as individuals, which may be the cause of the perceived seditious tendencies.
It is rare for both tribunes to show up for duty on time. Often, at least one tribune will "tag the base", showing up late and leaving early, if not immediately for home. The citizenry to elect an honorary mayor while the priesthoods to elect a sacerdos. The sacerdos would stand in as one tribune, if needed. The elected mayor has no power so long as a single tribune is working in the service of the Empire. This creates many cases where a tribune is at sea or leading the legion while the sacerdos has sole control of the town.
The role of sacerdos is unusual. All of the religious organizations can vote for a single priest or priestess from any organization. Since this job does not require any special physical or magical skill, very often the selected person is young. They typically are negotiators, book keepers and planners.
Tribunes acknowledge and respect the power of sacerdos but do not acknowledge mayoral powers. This is because a mayor only has power in the absence of both tribunes. If there are two tribunes in town, the sacerdos only has his religious duties and the duty to organize the production of goods for the protection of the sailors. A few tribunes will invite mayors and sacerdos on to their council of advisers, but never use the title "mayor".
Tribunes can forbid any public activity, except for two very specific actions by the regum antiquorum and cult activities deemed a public service. This is similar to the idea of a veto and is it is called that by the townspeople. The town hovers on the edge of martial law at all times. In the absence of one tribune, the sacerdos does not have the power of veto even when acting as a tribune's second. In the absence of both tribunes, the mayor and the sacerdos can veto each other actions, but not public activities. Basically, they can stop new laws or policies from going into effect.
When a veto by a sacerdos is in effect, the temples, churches and shrines will symbolically close, displaying a black curtain over a predominate window or door. When the mayor vetos an action, all public businesses shutter themselves with a plank over the front door. These traditions are symbolic and end once the mayor and sacerdos negotiate a solution or when a tribune arrives to set the situation right. The businesses and religious institutions still conduct operations while symbolically closed.
The current acting sacerdos cannot not leave the confines of the town, is responsible for blessing each new vessel and is able to charged the various cults to produce goods, magical and mundane to support the seafaring tribune. The sacerdos has a specific blessing for each type of ship, which is spiritual, not magical in nature. The sacerdos' symbol of office is small rudder. He or she wears a black cap with three long tassels over each ear. Former office holders wear a similar white cap with one yellow tassel for each year of service.
In this Empire, the collective word for all religions is "cult". It is not a disparaging term. The ruling class is leery of all cults and the Empire does not have a default religion. Religions are viewed as mysterious groups, which are largely impenetrable to outsiders.
Click this link to read Vignette #0 or this one to read Vignette #2.