Monday, March 14, 2011

Slaves: Interactions with the PCs

Telecanter has been wondering about slaves over at his Receding Rules blog:

Did players purchase and own slaves? Did they want to free all the slaves and get frustrated when they realized how impossible that would working against a whole culture? Or maybe that became the point of the campaign?
Slavery has been pretty common in my campaigns since I got out of college, as I’ve drifted towards a more Ancient World feel. As Migellito points out, slavery in the ancient world is often not what modern folks expect:

Slaves in Rome could own property and save up money to buy their own freedom, and many entered into it as a method of absolving debt.
Things get even stranger if you look at slavery as practiced by Muslims. In an attempt to build something like a modern standing army, the Abbasid caliphs bought slaves which they trained to be soldiers. The Ottoman Turks repeated this experiment about five centuries later. In both cases, the mamluk and Janissaries respectively became ways for those born in low social status to rise to great importance, wealth, and power through the seemingly backwards method of being “reduced” to slaves. The mamluks even became sultans, ruling such important territories at Egypt (where they stemmed the tide of the Mongol invasions) and the Janissaries found themselves in a position to dictate terms to their sultans, even to the point of extortion and palace coups.

That’s all a bit more advanced than my players will typically encounter in my current Doom & Tea Parties campaign. Outside of captives of the humanoid monsters, the most likely slaves for the PCs to encounter will be debtor and criminal slaves. On at least two occasions, such slaves have been purchased by the PCs to serve as henchmen on adventures. Their loyalty is commanded by magic (but it does have its limits) and generally if all you want is someone to hold a torch or spear, these folks are your best bet. A few successful adventures, however, will generally allow most to buy their freedom, assuming they’re allowed even a modest share of the treasure (the fines they are working to pay off rarely amount to more than a handful hundred pieces of gold).

Most of my players have been happy to take such cultural quirks in stride, assuming that their characters are from the same, or similar, backgrounds. On occasion, I’ve had players decide that their characters hated slavery (usually because they’d experienced it in the past, either personally or through a family member) and would work to subvert the system. But they always recognized that this was something that wouldn’t be accomplished overnight, and considered the task a long-term guerilla campaign, something akin to Joel Rosenberg’s “The Guardians of the Flame” series.

Art by Christian Meyer Ross and Georg Moritz Ebers.


Telecanter said...

Thanks for sharing this, lots of food for thought. I think I need to complicate my hireling charts with some debtor/criminals and think about having the pcs meet some prestigious slaves.

Anonymous said...

Hell yes, the context ad below this was for "Kiva Microfinance", so awesome. It brings up my point, that in America today we have a form of indentured servitude.

You can run up enough credit card debt that you can't pay it, and have to work hard just to make your minimum payments. When you suffer some disaster like a car accident or home damage, you don't have a reserve to pay for it so you have to pay for it on credit and dig yourself in deeper.

Similarly, you can get student loans and then offer to work in a disadvantaged place or type of work in order to help pay it off. If you don't do the work, you have to pay the money.

If you don't pay, you might see the government force you to.

Just because it's a way of life for us, just because there are a lot of benefits for the little people to have such a system in place (I know I wouldn't have gotten through college without loans!), it's still a form of voluntary indenture.

One could argue that big companies that sue and win only because they have deeper pockets practice a form of slave-taking. But I think that's a stretch.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Oops. Missed that discussion.

Some common forms of slave in my world:

Raviien who have had their wings chained together or removed are often used as disposable troops by the Ork'Aaln and their allies (Elves, humans, dwarves).

Elves are used as concubines by many races. Usually this is to pay off debts.

The Asodel are now indentured servants, mostly to Calaris or those in her Abyss. Except for the mourners; those are still in the city.

trollsmyth said...

Telecanter: My pleasure. I like including WTF cultural details in my games to remind the players that our games do not, in fact, take place in Kansas. ;)

1d30: Exactly what is, and isn't, slavery changes through the ages. "Indentured servants," "chain gangs," "conscripts," and "graduate students" could all be argued to have been synonyms for "slaves" at one time or another. ;p

C'nor: Sounds like a pretty brutal world you have there. Are elves chosen for concubines because of their beauty, or for other reasons?

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Partly beauty, partly the fact that about 65% of elves are infertile, and of the rest their children tend to be stillborn around 40% of the time. As they get to keep any money, jewelery, etc., that they are given, and may recieve a position within the house that offered or received them, some elves offer themselves to a noble house as bargaining pieces so that they have a better chance of making it past Mi'Naa (The age between 100 and 300, after which others must offer you food and shelter for three days).
The reason that the fertility problems of elves are important is that the standard contract for a concubine states that the term of service ends after anywhere from 1-5 years, or until the concubine successfully bears the child of the owner. Thus, if they used a race like the Dwarves (Also enslaved fairly often, but mostly because they're so miserly that they'd rather use themselves for collateral than anything they own), they'd not only have no concubines, they'd have a bunch of children that they then have to raise.

trollsmyth said...

C'nor: Interesting. So it looks like most of the slavery is voluntary, then?

Concubinage isn't unheard of in the lands of Doom & Tea Parties, but it's rarely done with "short-term" slaves. It primarily exists to elevate some slaves and to legitimize the children an owner might have with them. In some places (among the efreet, for instance) there is no legal distinction between children born of a wife and those born of a concubine.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

"So it looks like most of the slavery is voluntary, then?"

Among the elves, yes, in some ways. There aren't that many slaves in the elven society itself, because they can't simply outlive the owner, but among the shorter-lived groups... Part of it is that the elves have pretty much mined out all of their natural resources, and the nobles are the only ones with any money. 10-20 gold is pretty good for an elven peasant.

The Raviien are mostly prisoners of war, though the best fighters, druids or mages can eventually earn a place among the Ork'Aaln.

The Asodel can't leave until they've paid off their debt to Calaris, but they ended up there accidentally. In fact, she tricked them into thinking they were going the opposite direction, then claimed a debt since she saved them from dying in the desert.