Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Playing with Culture: Noble Titles Among the Efreet

One of the things I love about DMing and world building is inventing and playing with cultures. The races of D&D each offer opportunities to play amateur para-anthropologist, creating imaginary ceremonies and customs to dazzle and intrigue my players. I like to take something about the races, combine it with something from the real world, and twist. That's why my gnolls tend to be matriarchal. How do you say thank you to myconids for vital information and 'shroomy snacks? How about defecating in their garden?

In my other game, efreet may turn out to be major players. (The players from my college game are probably snickering already.) It's fairly traditional to pepper the efreet with lots of Arabian trappings. In the recent Paizo adventure, “The Impossible Eye
,” the palace of an efreeti pasha comes complete with a mosque, including prayer rugs, shelves for footwear, minbar (no, this kind, not this kind), and minaret where “the imam of the palace would in times past recite the adhan to call the citizens to salah (prayer).”

I can certainly understand the impulse, since if you're going to have an adventure with genies and the like, people just naturally assume you're going to be including that Arabian Nights feel. Myself, if I wanted to give the efreet the trappings of a real-world religion, I'd probably have chosen Zoroastrianism.

As it is, in my Doom and Tea Parties campaign, the efreet revere the Eldest, and pretty much leave it at that. They are, mostly, pirates and reavers whose plundering ways have earned them the ancient enmity of the djinn, and the mistrust of nearly all the other genie races. They are also rather vain, and nearly all efreet consider themselves part of a natural nobility. That being the case, matters of title and station will be rather important to them, even if their social rankings can change suddenly and chaotically. But what titles to use?

Here, I'm going to use the traditional titles. The old 1e MM says this about the efreet: “A powerful Sultan rules the Efreet. He is served by many different sorts of nobles and officials (pashas, deys, amirs, valis, and maliks).”

There's a good start. The hierarchy of Middle Eastern titles listed in the 1e DMG is a bit of a mess, so I decided to do a bit of research to get things a bit closer to right. Not having mountains of time to work on this, I settled for using Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, “sultan” is Arabic, which works, and refers generally to a rule who claims absolute political authority over an area without claiming to rule the entire caliphate, but who generally doesn't have any temporal authority over them.

Pasha is from “bashaw” (which I could not use in a game without my players snickering) and is apparently an Ottoman title. The Ottomans also used the title sultan, though, so mixing them is ok. Apparently, the use of horsehair tails or peacock tails were used to designate just which level of pasha you were, from one to three. (Only the sultan was allowed to use four.) There are no horses in this campaign, and I'd prefer to reserve peacock imagery for the shaitan of Earth, so instead I'm going to use blue flames instead. The blue should stand out brightly against the black, gold/brass, and red that I see dominating the efreet palette.

Things get a bit odd when we get to dey, however:

Dey (Arabic: داي, from Turkish Dayı [1][2]) was the title given to the rulers of the Regency of Algiers (Algeria) and Tunis (Tunisia) under the Ottoman Empire from 1671 onwards. Twenty-nine deys held office from the establishment of the deylicate in Algeria until the French conquest in 1830.
The dey was chosen by local civilian, military, and religious leaders to govern for life and ruled with a high degree of autonomy from the Ottoman sultan. The main sources of his revenues were taxes on the agricultural population, religious tributes, and protection payments rendered by Corsairs, regarded as pirates who preyed on Mediterranean shipping.
The dey was assisted in governing by a divan (ديوان) made up of the Chiefs of the Army and Navy, the Director of Shipping, the Treasurer-General and the Collector of Tributes.

Obviously, my efreet don't rule Algiers or Tunis. But there's at least one city-state of some importance other than Brass. This is called Petal, a city-state famed for its Babylonian-style hanging gardens, where the bounty of the Plane of Water is harnessed to feed an agricultural and herbal industry famed throughout the Elemental Planes. Are there other such cities? I haven't dreamed any up yet, but it certainly stands to reason that there might be.

So our deys will be the rulers of such cities. While they owe fealty to the Sultan in Brass, they typically rule their realms with little oversight from that distant potentate.

Emir gives me some problems. It's typically used as a generic “leader” title, but more often means “prince” and ruler of a principality. My efreet don't really have principalities, but pretty much city-states and small holdings and citadels, scattered across fire. Emir may get the boot.

Wikipedia does give me “kaymakam,” which means a person who speaks or rules in the place of the sultan. I'm thinking that might make a good name for a conquering leader who claims new territory. Not sure there are any kaymakam at present, but something to keep in mind.

When I ask about “vali” Wikipedia turns me to “wali,” which means “trusted one” and “should not be confused with the word Wāli (Arabic: والي) which is an administrative title that was used in the Muslim Caliphate”.

Well, maybe I shouldn't, but I kinda like confusing them. Words shifting meaning and merging with other, similar words is something that happens in language. So I'm making a wali a pasha who has been entrusted with an especially important duty. Most of the major city-states will have a Wali of the Wall, who is in charge of maintaining both the architectural integrity of the city's wall as well as its military preparedness. They'd also be tasked with manning fortresses that protect important planar gateways.

Malik is another word for “king” according to Wikipedia. While the idea of a bunch of efreet giving themselves mostly meaningless and aggrandizing titles is amusing, it makes things a bit more chaotic than I think I want for them. Malik gets the boot!

However, if I'm going to use deys I need to have beys. Beys were more local leaders, clan heads, and chieftains. I'm going to make it a title also claimed by raider and pirate captains. A raider or priate with other ships or warbands under his command would be a “bey of beys”.

And then there's the old standby, effendi. It's sorta like “sir” or “master” and works well as a title all efreet would expect to be used at the very least when addressing them.

Unfortunately, these are all masculine terms, and I might want female deys and certainly effendi. I've seen “sultana” used as the feminine of sultan before. I suppose I could slap an “a” at the end of all but pasha, and declare that one to be unisex. Anyone who knows more about such things have any advice?

Image credits: Hans Makart, and Jean-Léon Gérôme


Natalie said...

I'd prefer to reserve peacock imagery for the shaitan of Earth

Ha! Finally! Sort of an explanation!

Sounds like Fire, if and when we get there, should be interesting. Looking forward to it.

Chris said...

Picture, if you will, a massive 1,000 word screed commenting and critiquing your thoughts. More hyperlinks than is helpful (or tasteful). References and allusions strewn hither-and-yon like a fight in an encyclopediast's office.

A quick re-read.

The sudden realisation that precisely 0% of it would add anything to your game.




In conclusion: GJ Trollsmyth. More please. ;)

Matthew Slepin said...

I love the idea that all Efreet beleive themselves to be part of a natural aristocracy. But given that, I think coming up with cool titles would be a significant part of their culture. I wouldn't reject any titles, but would keep them all and add more. So, some Efreeti might have claim to be "His Grace, Memshazihan, the Holocaustic Marquis" because he was summoned to medieval France at some point (or maybe Averoigne)and found the title delightfully innovative and sure to be the envy of all his peers.

A nifty side effect might be that all Efreet see themselves as legitimate heirs to the Sultanate. They all huge immense geneologies which "prove" this and things might get awful nasty during a succession.

Imagine if the PC's manage to kill the Efreeti Sultan. Next thing they know, a massive Succession War breaks out among the Efreet (a regular occurence, although human don't know that). Some of them might seek the PC's aid, while others seek to eliminate them, knowing what they did to the last guy.

trollsmyth said...

Oddysey: I was wondering if you'd forgotten about that, actually. ;) Here are some more clues.

Chris: Heh, my campaign runs far afield sometimes. Hard to say what would and wouldn't be useful. I'd say turn it into a blog post, maybe, but I love today's post at the Vaults too much.

Mat: Interesting... I could really see the efreet doing something like that. Not this campaign (it's far too insular) but I'm going to keep that in mind.

Dave Y said...

This is really quality stuff. Thanks Trollsmyth!

kittygoespotty said...

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