I must ask the gentle reader to do something difficult, something which he or she shall find goes against their beliefs - beliefs, that is, that have been taught to them since birth. I ask the reader to discard any certainty that there exist human rights, or the perceived equality of human beings, or social contracts between the state and its people. Let us say that none of them exist. At the time that the monarchical system of government was established, they did not.
In their place, let us understand that a completely different philosophy dominated the political landscape. Something that today makes libertarian-minded persons bristle with fury: Might makes Right.
Understand, in the absence of all the political theory which we today take for granted, the argument that power has the privilege to rule is more than a simple acknowledgement of submission - it is the firm and concrete belief that power has the RIGHT to rule. It should rule. In fact, knowing that it does rule helps all the poor and huddled masses sleep better in their beds at night.
During my post about the alphabet, I made a point about increased numbers of persons living together created a situation where strangers dwelt together in the same conglomerate for the first time in history. This would be the massing together of cities, surrounded by an agricultural halo, where tribal organization would break down due to the complexities involved in governing tens of thousands of people.
In any society prior, the mixing of two tribes was likely to bring about bloodshed and murder, on first sight. Even when it did not happen, it was in danger of happening, and so tribes did not mix casually even when sitting down together. Brides were traded according to rigorous customs, like any other traded good, for the betterment of both tribes. Such events were serious.
But cities, as they came into existence about 10,000 years ago, allowed for thousands of strangers to mix casually every day. Blood feuds did erupt - people are human, after all - but they were not the order of the day. They could not be, if the city was to survive - something that was seen as a very good thing, since the city's existence promised the satisfaction of materialistic needs, plentiful food, a strong defense against raiders and personal opportunity. The very reasons we put up with strangers on the bus or the subway today.
By what means is this ancient city governed? The people within are a hodgepodge of hundreds of clans and tribes, who share no common heritage as we understand it. There's no nationalism to define persons from given regions - more often than not, any two persons from a given region would have more reason to despise each other than they would unrelated persons from elsewhere. There are no binding religious belief systems - like any primitive peoples, religion does not play a significant part in their lives, something that makes it easy for the priesthood to incorporate strangers into whatever 'local' belief system is in play. Language? For the common person, there does not exist as yet any literary history, whereas most spoken stories are the same stories, told in different languages. Language does not herd people together in the ancient period, it drives them apart - lest we forget the story of Babel.
To bind such a diverse mass together, there needs be a single principle. Strength is something that is universal - a 'King' represents a single entity that be recognized by everyone, thereby lending the familiarity of a father figure to all. The King possesses a cadre of loyal followers, who as soldiers are able to police the city, putting a stop to conflicts, bringing difficult disputes to the King for settlement, protecting the city against small groups of raiders and providing leadership when the whole city is threatened.
Such a society would defend the King's right to go on doing this very useful service, as the service itself would be more important than any sentiments of 'fairness' or 'liberty' as we understand them. The King's word would be accurate because he was the King, and not for any other reason that needed to be named.
Later, of course, the King's privileges would be limited by ideas such as feudalism, but initially the King's word would be absolute. In certain regions, Sumeria to be sure, the King was often a Priest-King, who represented both power on earth and power in heaven. In appearance, this seems to be a sort of 'divine right' at work, but not so much in practice. The king was not, at the time, seen to be invested by the gods with power. Rather, the king simply served a dual purpose - he was in power, so what better person to communicate with the gods when the time came?
Finally, we come to D&D, where the King (when there is one) is a rather distant representative of a government that takes little interest in the party's affairs, even when the party is of high level. The preferred relationship of Kings to parties is something like what's represented in the film Conan from 1980 - the King's daughter has been stolen, these adventurer's seem tough, he'll pay them to get the daughter back.
Rarely does it happen that the local King sees the tough adventurers as a legitimate danger to his authority, except as a DM's trick to drive the party out of the kingdom. Most of the time, the party does its thing in a sort of bubble of indifference, wiping out a tribal contingent here, cleaning out a dungeon there ... acting as a sort of guerilla maid service, solving the kingdom's troubles, taking their pay and moving on.
It is easier for a DM to treat the party as operating on the fringes of whatever political monarchy might be present. In actual fact, as a party continues to operate, its fame should spread and grow - descriptions of the various members should pass from person to person, as stories are told ... until such a time that the party's notariety actually proceeds the party, wherever it desires to go. This, I see, is something that should certainly begin to happen by the time the party reaches 8th level. The smaller the campaign is geographically, however, the lower the level necessary. Third levels would make a name for themselves in a world that consisted of only a few dozen hexes.
See it as a growing circle of influence that surrounds a party, somewhat in reference to the overall point of this post - that Might makes Right. As the party gains in notariety, there should also be gained a kind of acceptance that what the party needs ought to be provided. After all, these adventurers did get rid of that ogre problem in the next county, and they did return the daughter to the Lord of Pynt ... "If they need a horse, why, they can take mine!"
It helps when considering the sort of End Game I was describing in my last post. The party becomes a political entity in their own right. Rather than creating conflicts between the local monarchy and the party, to shunt them on to the next kingdom, and rather than inventing harder quests, why not have the monarchy offer the party an arrangement? (A feudal one to be sure, and we're not talking about feudalism yet, so I'll leave the principles of the arrangement be for the moment). Eventually, the party becomes masters of their own domains, with their own daughters, whom they have to pay other adventurer's to bring back.
All too often, the shift from Adventurer to Lord is something which happens overnight. "Oh look, the party stops and now they're lords." It just couldn't happen that way. A group of name-level persons would leave too big a wake in their travels. And they would be just too damn valuable to whomever the local King was - or too big a threat.
Suppose you owned a piece of land in the wilderness, and that the land you owned ended at a particular riverbank. Suddenly, without warning, a group of tough-looking strangers show up across the river, where they start building fortified houses and loading the place up with weapons. Would you turn a blind eye because it wasn't actually happening on your property? That's the scenario dreamed up in the DMG - that because the party chooses to set up their castles in the wilderness, no problem.
Uh uh. Might makes Right, remember? First thing the local kingdom is going to do is establish just who is more powerful, and just how is that power structure going to be reordered for the benefit of everyone. If it turns out the party are a bunch of self-righteous louts, they're going to find an army on their doorstep before they get halfway through building those castles. And not just to drive them off the land, mind - but to eradicate them, for the good of all.
Isn't that what parties do to villages of goblins? Ever had a party suggest they should just drive them off and let them go their way?
Once a party has established themselves, they should recognize that the attitude of all those within their environs will be the base expectation that the party will act according to their power - if pushed far enough, a peasant population will rise up, but such uprisings rarely succeeded in changing the power structure. More often than not the peasantly was brutally murdered afterwards. In any event, a party that treats its peasantry kindly will likely encourage revolt rather than suppress it. Kindness is seen as weakness, and weakness has no right to rule. Keep mindful of that as a DM.
I think that's enough for today. I could write more, but I will save it for articles I write later on about Feudalism and Divine Right.