Miscellanea: Thoughts on CKIII: Royal Court

This week, we’re going to be a bit silly and talk about the recently released Royal Court, a DLC expansion for Paradox’s medieval grand strategy game Crusader Kings III, because I think it is attempting something fairly interesting that relatively few strategy games do. This isn’t going to be a review – there are a lot of those out there and as they mostly say, if you enjoy CKIII, then Royal Court is probably worth your time, particularly if you like to play large realms (if you prefer to play very small realms or tribal polities, there is less here for you).

One of the loading screens for the new expansion. I visually read the woman on the right in blue as in the process of making the ‘buddy Christ‘ gesture, but I’m sure the artist had something else in mind.

What I think is interesting here is the way that the expansion attempts, and to a significant degree succeeds, to direct the player’s attention much more to the typical job of being king (or indeed, lesser nobles as well, but only kings and above have courts in Royal Court). The main new feature is the aforementioned royal courts: kings and emperors establish courts which play host to new events. Based on how grand your realm is, your vassals will expect your court to be relatively fancy; you can achieve this ‘grandeur’ through fancy stuff (artifacts, displayed in the court) or fancy amenities, or both. Amenities cost money and so rulers have to put meaningful financial power behind keeping up appearances. Vassals and subjects may then come and hang out as guests in your court, creating events and interactions. All of these things – your court’s grandeur (or lack thereof) and your court activities – have opinion impacts with your subjects and vassals.

I think this is actually a great set of mechanics and systems that do in fact express a lot of the tasks of what doing kingship actually looked like, frankly in a much better way than a lot of medieval and medieval fantasy popular culture tends to do. I saw one player review complaining that all they had done was add a lot of busywork and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Yes! That’s the point (but I actually think the busy work is pretty well crafted, all told).

Kingship and Legitimacy

All of this goes to the nature of kingship. As I hammer home to my students, no one rules alone and no ruler can hold a kingdom by force of arms alone. Kings and emperors need what Hannah Arendt terms power – the ability to coordinate voluntary collective action – because they cannot coerce everyone all at once. Indeed, modern states have far, far more coercive power than pre-modern rulers had – standing police forces, modern surveillance systems, powerful administrative states – and of course even then rulers must cultivate power if only to organize the people who run those systems of coercion.

How does one cultivate power? The key factor is legitimacy. To the degree that people regard someone (or some institution) as the legitimate authority, the legitimate ruler, they will follow their orders mostly just for the asking. After all, if a firefighter were to run into the room you are in right now and say “everybody out!” chance are you would not ask a lot of questions – you would leave the room and quickly! You’re assuming that they have expertise you don’t, a responsibility to fight fires, may know something you don’t and most importantly that their position of authority as the Person That Makes Sure Everything Doesn’t Burn Down is valid. So you comply and everyone else complies as a group which is, again, the voluntary coordination of collective action (the firefighter is not going to beat all of you if you refuse so this isn’t violence or force), which is power.

At the same time, getting that compliance, for the firefighter, is going to be dependent on looking the part. A firefighter who is a fit-looking person in full firefighting gear who you’ve all seen regularly at the fire station is going to have an easier time getting you all to follow directions than a not-particularly-fit fellow who claims to be a firefighter but isn’t in uniform and you aren’t quite sure who they are or why they’d be qualified. The trappings contribute to legitimacy which build power. Likewise, if your local firefighters are all out of shape and haven’t bothered to keep their fire truck in decent shape, you – as a community – might decide they’ve lost your trust (they’ve lost legitimacy, in fact) and so you might replace them with someone else who you think could do the job better.

Royal power works in similar ways. Kings aren’t obeyed for the heck of it, but because they are viewed as legitimate and acting within that legitimate authority (which typically means they act as the chief judge, chief general and chief priest of a society; those are the three standard roles of kingship which tend to appear, in some form, in nearly all societies with the institution). The situation for monarchs is actually more acute than for other forms of government. Democracies and tribal councils and other forms of consensual governments have vast pools of inherent legitimacy that derives from their government form – of course that can be squandered, but they start ahead on the legitimacy game. Monarchs, by contrast, have to work a lot harder to establish their legitimacy and doing so is a fairly central occupation of most monarchies, whatever their form. That means to be rule effectively and (perhaps more importantly) stay king, rulers need to look the part, to appear to be good monarchs, by whatever standard of ‘good monarch’ the society has.

In most societies that has traditionally meant that they need not only to carry out those core functions (chief general, chief judge, chief priest), but they need to do so in public in a way that can be observed by their most important supporters. In the case of a vassalage-based political order, that’s going to be key vassals (some of whom may be mayors or clerics rather than fellow military aristocrats). We’ve talked about how this expresses itself in the ‘chief general’ role already.

I’m reminded of a passage from the Kadesh Inscription, an Egyptian inscription from around 1270 BC which I often use with students; it recounts (in a self-glorifying and propagandistic manner) the Battle of Kadesh (1274 BC). The inscription is, of course, a piece of royal legitimacy building itself, designed to convince the reader that the Pharaoh did the ‘chief general’ job well (he did not, in the event, but the inscription says he did). What is relevant here is that at one point he calls his troops to him by reminding them of the good job he did in peace time as a judge and civil administrator (the ‘chief judge’ role)(trans. from M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 2 (1976)):

Did I not rise as lord when you were lowly,
and made you into chiefs [read: nobles, elites] by my will every day?
I have placed a son on his father’s portion,
I have banished all evil from the land.
I released your servants to you,
Gave you things that were taken from you.
Whosoever made a petition,
“I will do it,” said I to him daily.
No lord has done for his soldiers
What my majesty did for your sakes.

This is a side of kingship that few games address in any real depth. Most strategy games focus almost exclusively on the military responsibilities of the king to the exclusion of most everything else, while RPGs that put the player in a position as ruler (Neverwinter Nights 2, Pillars of Eternity, Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous all come to mind) usually only have a handful of disputes for you to resolve, most of which typically tie back into the main story and your wandering adventures. There typically isn’t a point where you have to just sit down and spend a whole day judging cases or working through the intricacies of the contractual obligations of your land tenants, even off-screen (credit-for-the-exception to the amazing and underappreciated Tyranny, where the character represents the king as a sort of itinerant judge and absolutely gets asked to resolve these kind of disputes).

I tend to use the ruler creator to make custom dynasties, in this case the gens Paedagoga, from the closest Latin to ‘pedant,’ paedagogus, in the feminine form because the names of Roman gentes take the feminine.
Our crest is, naturally, a black cat. In retrospect, it should have been two of them, but I thought that would be too hard to see clearly on the shield. In either case, both Percival and Oliver are common dynastic names.

Disputes in Royal Court

What Royal Court does well, I think, is in introducing the performance of non-military elements of kingship more fully into the game. And I do mean performance because, remember, you have to be seen to do these things. Which is where the court in royal court comes in, because this is precisely the sort of activity (fitting under that ‘chief judge’ role) that kings had to be doing all the time in order to be acting out the role of ‘good king’ in a visible way which would encourage legitimacy among their key supporters (mostly other military aristocrats).

In the game, this takes the form of the ‘Hold Court’ button, which you can do every five years (which sounds like an absurdly long interval but the way the game is played actually feels fairly frequent) which triggers three ‘petitions’ – dilemmas that you have to choose a response to. The court itself can also generate dilemmas outside of these formal sessions, usually once every other year or so (again, that ends up being fairly frequent in the scheme of the game where a normal playthrough covers centuries. For reference, I am about 30 hours of game time into my current game, and 200 years into the playthrough, so that’s ‘holding court’ more than once an hour).

Basileus Percival holding court. Percival and Oliver aren’t Greek names and don’t have easy conversions into Greek that I know of, so I just left them as is.

Most of these are disputes that the player, as ruler, has to resolve in some way. A number of them (especially the ones that occur randomly between formal court petitions) are personal issues – petty disputes between courtiers, family members, etc. But a lot of them are exactly the sort of disputes that kings (and other high nobles) are forever dealing with in our sources: land disputes between vassals, vassals seeking redress of crimes committed by other vassals (or their subjects), petitions by common subjects for tax relief or protection and endless disputes about who got what castle and did they deserve it.

Kings were deeply involved in these sorts of legal matters because as kings they both set the law and were expected to at least oversee its enforcement. For common crimes, that might mean the king acting as the head of a larger legal system but of course for disputes (and vassals) that occurred above the purview of those judges, the king would have to involve themselves personally. Moreover, of course, for the king to get personally involved and to hear the cases and disputes himself, provided an opportunity for the king to be seen doing so, which was important to establishing legitimacy, to look kingly.

When I’ve taught vassalage-based political systems (it has been a while) one of the readings I use is exactly this sort of dispute, a letter from Hugh IV of Lusignan, detailing his seemingly endless land disputes with his neighbors and demanding that his liege (in this case, Duke William V of Aquitaine) do something about them.1 A brief set of excerpts from the letter can give a sense of these sort of disputes (jumping around a bit because Hugh does a lot of whining and I want to stress all of the dispute-resolving William has to do) (trans. T. Greene and B.H. Rosenwein):

When Ralph [viscount of Thouars] died, Hugh asked the count [William of Acquitaine] to restore him the land which Ralph had seized from him […] after the death of both men [a bishop and Hugh’s uncle Joscelin], the count made an agreement between Hugh and Bishop Isembert that Hugh would get half of the castle and half of the demesne and two shares of the vassals’ fiefs
After the death of Aimery a great dispute began between his son Aimery and Hugh. At the same time, Hugh went to the count and said to him, “Things are going badly for me now, my Lord, because I have none of the property which you acquired for me.” The Count answered him, “I am going to hold a public hearing so that if they act well, good; if not, I will turn over to you the castle which I started.”
When Hugh heard this [that William wasn’t going to help him] he went to the court of the count and made the case for his rights, but it did him no good. This saddened Hugh, and in the hearing of all he renounced his fealty to the count, except what he owed for the city and his own person
Hugh demanded [of the counter] that he return the honor [read: fief] of his father and the other things which belonged to his relatives and to which he had right, and he would surrender the tower [he just took from a third party by force] and all the things that he had taken within it…the count thought this over and they arranged for a hearing. And the count said to Hugh, “I will not give you those honors which you ask of me, but I will give you that honor which was your uncle’s – the castle, the tower and the entire honor – on the condition that you no longer demand of me that honor which was your father’s, or others of your relatives, nor anything which you claim as your right.”

As noted, many of the disputes you resolve in Royal Court are these sorts of disputes. The resolutions are invariably less complex in order to make them more legible to a player, of course; typically some mix of: favor party A but anger party B, favor party B but anger party A, make both parties happy by expending your resources instead, or anger both parties by seizing the disputed thing for yourself. The simplification is understandable in the context of a game where players probably do not want to actually spend an hour of game time piling through a town charter to try to figure out exactly who does own that field (though several dilemma options allude to having your steward – the financial advisor on your council – do exactly this).

The stress system interacts with this in interesting ways too, as acting against your current ruler’s personality causes stress – taking a bunch of stress in three rapid-fire dilemmas can have significant negative consequences (a ‘mental break’ in the game), so a ‘Just’ character is going to have to try to find just and lawful solutions, even when those are disadvantageous for him, while a ‘Greedy’ character is probably not going to be able to choose the ‘make everyone happy by spending my own money’ option, even when it is politically (or morally) the correct call.

But in the broad outlines, holding court works the way it ought: you resolve disputes and if you are resolving those disputes in line with cultural expectations (which often means using your resources to handle things for your vassals and subjects), that tends to improve your legitimacy, represented in game by improving your vassals opinion of you, which in turn makes your realm more stable: high opinion both reduces the risk of dangerous factions forming among your vassals, but also makes tax collection and raising levies easier and more effective…which is to say that vassal opinion functions exactly like Arendtian power ought.

The way the new grandeur statistic works in the expansion also goes towards working forms of legitimacy into the game. The cultural expectation the societies the game focuses on was that kings were supposed to be lavish and generous, forever giving out gifts to their supporters and spending in conspicuous and grand ways.

And so along these lines, in Royal Court, as a king or emperor you are expected to maintain your actual court, which takes the form of both funding the basic amenities of the place (rooms, servants, food, etc.) but also showing off cool and impressive artwork and artifacts in your throne room (artifacts you are likely to have commissioned at great expense). All of that contributes to the ‘grandeur’ of your court. Based on the size and wealth of your realm, your vassals expect a certain level of grandeur; exceed it and you get an opinion bonus, fall short and there is an opinion malus.

And that makes sense! In essence, your vassals have a sense of what kind of extravagance is necessary to look kingly in their social context, and they will judge you for the degree to which you match up to that expectation. Our sources tend to read financially responsible rulers as ‘miserly.’ The easy example of this is how you all likely know King John ‘Lackland’ of England as the miserly ‘Prince John’ of Robin Hood infamy; in part that was because the foolish (but very kingly) military adventurism of his elder brother Richard I (the Lionheart) had practically bankrupted the kingdom and John, as his successor, was left little room for magnanimity. But of course legitimacy does not care for financial constraints and a king that fails to act appriorpiately kingly, even for good reasons, tends to suffer in the sources (and at the time, since John’s efforts to raise funds triggered a revolt by his barons in 1215). I am also reminded of the Roman emperors Tiberius and Vespasian, both of whom for solid financial reasons could be as profligate as their predecessors, but are treated as misers in the sources for it (Vespasian gets away with it because unlike Tiberius, he had a sense of humor). This mechanic is a neat extension of that issue, forcing players to choose between spending money to build legitimacy and spending it on other things (since the upper-tier court amenities can get very expensive).

(Court)Room For Improvement

All of that said, I think there are some ways this system could be tweaked to better represent the actual way these systems functioned.

So far I’ve been describing the system as I tend to engage with it, holding court as frequently as possibly basically like clockwork. But you don’t have to do that. The game is currently set up so that holding court is treated as an opportunity (since the dilemmas can have positive effects) and the player ‘pays’ a small amount of prestige to do it. I understand why they wanted to set it up this way, to create a mechanic that players had the option to engage in, but could ignore if they were more focused on other elements of the game or simply didn’t like it very much.

But kings didn’t have the option to ignore this part of their ‘job.’ Instead a prestige cost for holding court, I’d probably have designed the system for an escalating vassal opinion penalty the longer court hasn’t been held, reflecting the lost legitimacy from the failure to do this basic royal function. At the same time, there should probably be more dilemmas which put the ruler in a tough spot and create opportunities for vassals to try to corner their ruler into giving them something, leading a player to want to try to balance not holding court formally to avoid giving vassals the opportunity to extract promises against the cost in legitimacy in the long run. That said, from a game design perspective, I can see why they didn’t go this way: making your exciting new feature a chore you try to avoid rather than an option you look forward to is a great way to not sell many copies of your DLC.

The other thing I’d like to see tied into this system is a greater sense of cultural differences in how these courts function, which goes back to my original thoughts about the game: that it represented a really interesting foundation but would benefit greatly in the long run from culturally-specific or region-specific expansions of the sort that Crusader Kings II got over the years.

Right now, the court system does a decent job of modeling how courts worked in the more centralized kingdoms of the later European Middle Ages (or in the East), where there was an established capital where the king had his permanent court. But for much of the Middle Ages, many courts were itinerant, proceeding through the kingdom from region to region, with no permanent center of government. Ever after kings established obvious capitals, they might still progress around the kingdom (a ‘King’s Progress‘). In both cases, the court went with the king and that meant dispute-resolving where the court went. As a mechanic, it might be interesting to give players a choice between an itinerant court and a centralized one. At a very basic level, the former might give the player the option each time court is held to pick the vassal who plays host (for a big opinion bonus with them, but perhaps also enhancing their ability to scheme against you) and perhaps a modest bonus to realm cohesion (maybe in the form of discouraging vassals joining factions if their region has had the court in it in the last 20 or 30 years). Meanwhile, a centralized court built around a permanent capital might offer the ruler a bonus to demense-size (reflecting the permanent administration they have around their own holdings) at the cost of foregoing those other bonuses and probably both a higher expected grandeur but also a higher possible grandeur.

The other opportunity here, I think, is for a lot more culture-specific events and I hope that as we get those ‘culture pack’ DLCs which I assume are probably in the development plan for the game, that they build on this foundation. After all, the disputes coming to an Islamic court or a Byzantine court won’t be the same as those coming to a French court, both due to cultural differences but also different political situations (there is an event, for instance, where the clergy demands control over a ‘holy city’ in exchange for giving you a relic; this makes sense as say, the Pope demanding Rome back from a Catholic ruler, but as the Byzantine Emperor working under a system of Caesaropapism wherein the emperor essentially rules over the Church, it makes little sense).

Getting those events ‘right’ without stereotyping would be tricky; my hope here is that Paradox’s developers, as they look to develop region-specific flavor-packs, might sit down with historians with expertise in those regions and talk through their ideas. I suspect a question like “what sort of wild stuff happened in the Abbasid court and what kind of disputes were common there?” is one that the right specialist could answer from memory or at least look up fairly quickly.2 But the cultural-specificity will matter because, as I hope I’ve made clear, the tasks that confer legitimacy were culturally specific! It is all about the ruler fitting their culture’s idea of what a good ruler looks like – just think about the degree to which ‘looking presidential/prime-ministerial’ varies from modern country to country.

Of course I did.
To be fair, a game as the Byzantine Empire (with a ruler-creator dynasty) is a pretty good way to try out the new features, since you need to be an independent king or emperor to have a royal court.

Likewise, right now there are four visual court styles: western-European, Mediterranean (essentially Byzantine), Middle-Eastern and Indian. I can’t speak to their visual accuracy, but there are obviously some areas missing there, most obviously West-African and Eastern-European styles and also a bespoke court-style for the Steppe. And there’s also clearly room for variation within those larger types; one hopes that as we get region-specific flavor-packs, they may include options that tie into the distinct architectural and artwork styles of those regions and sub-regions.

But overall, this addition, pushing players at the upper-reaches of the nobility to effectively spend money and time building legitimacy through performing royal judgement and spending extravagantly on their elite subjects is a fairly good expression of how one part of monarchy works, albeit in a fairly gamified form.

Next week, time permitting, we’re going to look at the ‘runner-up’ topic from the ACOUP Senate vote, examining the Roman office of Dictator – how it worked, and if it worked – both because it was the runner-up but also because I think it’ll be useful to set up a longer discussion I want to write about Expeditions: Rome (which may be some distance down the road yet).

  1. You can find an extract of the letter in the excellent primary-source reader B.H. Rosenwein, Reading the Middle Ages (2010). The Rosenwein reader, intended as a companion book for a medieval history course (one that presumably also uses Rosenwein’s A Short History of the Middle Ages) is probably the best reader of its type I’ve taught from.
  2. Certainly if you asked that question of me for the Romans, even though I work mostly on the Roman Republic, I could give you an answer pretty clearly, beginning with, “grab a copy of Fergus Millar’s The Emperor in the Roman World (1997). ‘How do political institutions function in my period’ is one of those questions that pretty much any sort of historian has to grapple with.

160 thoughts on “Miscellanea: Thoughts on CKIII: Royal Court

  1. I don’t think today’s discussion is silly at all. You’ve made abundantly clear that engaging the historical assumptions of broader cultural products – books, movies or games – is important.
    Besides – and I’m aware this compliment is double edged – your ability to engage History from the starting point of novels or games is, I feel, where your competitive advantage lies, as a public facing historian.

  2. Very much looking forward to your thoughts on Expeditions: Rome, having just finished it this week. I feel like it could have been a much stronger (and more fun) game had they taken Roman politics seriously rather than using the theme park version as window dressing. All the more of a shame as I’d really enjoyed Expeditions: Viking.

  3. One other thought occurs to me. If anyone here enjoys a game about these kinds of interactions, they’re a huge component of King of Dragon Pass and Six Ages. They might not be appropriate fodder for this blog since they’re set in fantasy settings, but in both games you embody a small pre-state society (usually with a population in the high hundreds) and have a “ring” of seven nobles running things. You get complaints and things to decide multiple times a year, and what sorts of things you “should” be doing are a mix of what is socially acceptable and what sorts of things your ruling people happen to be good at doing.

    I still remember from almost 20 years ago getting into some political trouble with an event that an eligible noblewoman from the clan had multiple suitors, and we were supposed to pick one for her to marry. I asked the girl in question which of the three guys she preferred, and it was scandalous, instant mood loss.

    1. KODP is a fantastic game for those who want to understand what it’s like to rule a pre-modern, pre-democratic society. I feel like a lot of the events can be mapped fairly neatly onto a lot of Medieval or even Roman settings (bringing a lawsuit against ghosts to get them to stop haunting you!) but I don’t know if there’d be a lot for a history blog to grapple with.

    2. I remember that event. My usual solution was to hold a feast, during which the suitors would compete for the girl’s hand. The people got their bread and circuses, while the girl was happy because her new husband had publicly proven himself to be the strongest.

    3. King of Dragon Pass is a very fun game, but the nobles you have around you only offer advice. There’s no need to please them. Diplomacy is for other tribes. Culture also comes into play when making common folk happy, and to make a good choice during a Quest. So there are similarities, but nothing quite like a royal court.

    4. Came here to say ‘sounds like King of Dragon Pass!’

      Personally I feel KoDP hit the ‘this culture’s morality doesn’t match yours’ much better than Six Ages, but both are great. Another thing it does very well is demonstrate the destructive and cyclical escalation of fueding with peer rivals. If you play the game as an aggressive warlord from the get-go you’ll quite quickly find yourself trading tit for tat in raids. Haven’t got far enough through it to find out if you can play warlord a little later though, or whether there’s a pretty strong anti-conflict message throughout.

      1. If you know what you’re doing and prepare well, you absolutely can dominate other clans even if they’re supposedly “peer” rivals. Wasn’t one of my games, but I did see a screenshot from one where the player drove every single other clan in the game into the swamp to the west and sat on a truly ridiculous amount of land.

        Mostly it’s a matter of getting superb warleaders (heroic in both combat and leadership) and having the right treasures. The Klanth of Orlanth in particular is beastly for winning fights.

  4. Have you considered continuing your “Teaching Paradox” series with CK 2 or 3? The articles you wrote on Victoria and Europa Universalis where of great interest.

  5. Those are pretty good and might be worth discussing, though KoDP is more northern Europe. I also like them for helping demonstrate how polytheistic people thought about gods.

    Yes, you’re taking up a month, calling on your network of favours, expending dozens of cows and cow-equivalents of treasure, and risking the life of one of your leaders to perform a ceremony. Why? Because there’s a river to be crossed, so you need to call upon the gods to subdue it.

  6. “My first duty,” she said slowly, “is to keep the Empire running. If I fail in that, nothing else matters. To run the Empire, I need the cooperation of all of those I can’t coerce, and to coerce those who won’t cooperate. To do that, I need the confidence of the nobles and the princes. If I lose the confidence of of the nobles, of the princes, I cannot run the Empire.”
    – Iorich (2009) by Steven Brust

    1. Tzu Kung asked for a definition of good government. The Master replied: It consists in providing enough food to eat, in keeping enough soldiers to guard the State, and in winning the confidence of the people.—And if one of these three things had to be sacrificed, which should go first?—The Master replied: Sacrifice the soldiers.—And if of the two remaining things one had to be sacrificed, which should it be?—The Master said: Let it be the food. From the beginning, there have always been war and hunger. But without the confidence of the people no government can stand at all.

      1. We know there are very strict rules on using the Orb to just locate people, so I’d assume zapping people for reasons other than crank calls is similarly limited. And I’d wonder if maybe part of becoming a House’s Heir is getting that function locked out for you.

        1. I always thought that since every citizen had a connection to the Orb, they could use it to ping the Empress. And she could unleash a huge flow of power back to them.

          Essentially, every one of them is walking around with a huge DO NOT PRESS button in their heads. And it says things about Dragerans that so few of them press it.

          1. IIRC, Vlad’s father neglected, perhaps purposefully, to tell him of that ‘benefit’ of Imperial citizenship. One wonders how many Dragaerans actually know they can appeal to/suicide by the Empress.

    2. Brust writes from a Marxist viewpoint (which is fine – Marx is one key to understanding our world). Royalty often had to look more widely than nobles and princes, and at least try to represent themselves as champions of universal justice and well-being – which meant limiting noble exactions. In mythic memory this is Haroun al-Rashid walking the street of Baghdad or Akbar rowing an old peasant woman across a river or Wenceslas carrying firewood. But it’s also Louis XI sharply reminding nobles that peasants and townsfolk are French too, and Henry IV clapping commoners on the back and handing out justice and gifts. Strong kings took land into the royal domain (one historian remarked that if a noble walked out of an audience with Charlemagne with as much as he walked in with, he counted himself lucky – see also Edward I’s commissions of quo warranto); weak kings gave land away or lost it.

      Also, there’s the critical importance of descent in western Europe (and Iran – not generally so much in Islamic lands – Abbasids and Osmanli aside, or in India, Rome or East Rome). The royal family was of the blood blessed by God, not easily displaced. It might be a question of which royal, but outsiders did not have a chance, however noble. Legitimacy in western Europe and Rus derived largely from inheritance, in Islam from performance.

      1. Wasn’t a large amount of legitimacy for the early caliphates a line of descent from muhammad or his kin? Performance only seemed to be the main factor if you were a slave soldier, but mercenaries could also have surprising amounts of upwards mobility in western europe.

        1. I’m not very knowledgeable about Islamic history, but AIUI the caliphate evolved into something like the Japanese emperors. Official authority and legitimacy was religious and followed inheritance — emperor or caliph — while effective power was taken over by generals — daimyos and shoguns, or sultans and whatnot. Though one could argue the emperor/caliph was functionally more like a hereditary pope or high priest, that various ‘kings’ would pay service (lip or otherwise) to.

          1. St. Francis Xavier talked of the Emperor and Pope of Japan — that is, the Shogun and the Emperor.

          2. Depends on *which* Caliph and when, gets complicated very fast.

            The Shia-Sunni split which is still important today arose from a dispute about the legitimacy of the early Caliphs in the 7th century CE, more than a thousand years ago.

          3. it gets complicated because the notion of exactly what the Commander of the Faithful is supposed to do varies, but one of the thing that became clear very early on at least in sunni islam is that the Caliph does *not’ get to make doctrine. He can act as a judge and political head of the community, but the actual formulation of matters of religion are done by legal scholars.

        2. Yes – but the descent was not direct, and the key was the confidence of the ‘umma – the community of the faithful from whom, in theory, rule derived. What with persistent, if unsuccessful, Alid claims, rebellions seeking to re-establish the will of the ‘umma as the guide and the fragmentation of Islam outside the core, performance became the key (pretty much like Rome). Dynasties are usually short-lived, and there are quite a few rags to ruler stories. My favourite is the ‘one-eyed black eunuch of great ugliness and surpassing charm’ – an ex-slave who rose to rule Egypt.

      2. Yeah, I’ve gone through the kings of England, and succession was *not* pretty or stable much of the time… but for all the Plantaganet/Tudor/Stuart/etc. dynasty changes, they did keep it within the descendants of William, or Alfred the Great for that matter. Vs. Roman emperors where some peasant-soldier could end up in charge.

        I have a fanfic idea where Bujold’s Barrayar and Jackson’s Whole are compared and contrasted. Both violent oligarchies organized around personal connections, but the Counts of Barrayar are a closed class in a way that the ‘Barons’ (mob bosses) of JW aren’t.

        1. “Performance” in this context is the ability to persuade enough significant others to support your bid for the throne, and then maintain you on it. For Roman emperors the significant others were the legion commanders; for Mamluk rulers the senior Mamluk leaders, for Danish kings the jarls and so on. Rarely the mass – although one historian of Kievan Rus noted that rule rested on princely, boyar and popular support – with several rulers losing place due to popular discontent.

          1. I see. “Performance based legitimacy” is what Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba has had, since he launched a successful coup last month in Burkina Faso. And what Lady Jane Grey had for about a week.

            Are you sure “Legitimacy”, performance based or otherwise, is really right name for the concept you are trying to express?

  7. Not sure what the error is, but the Kadesh inscription can’t be from 1295BC and the battle from 1274BC, because that would make the inscription 21 years before the battle.

  8. Glad to hear that Expeditions: Rome is on the chopping block! I’ve been eyeing that game for awhile on Steam but I’m sure that there’s enough silly in it (and I now know enough from reading this blog that I can spot the silliness) that I wouldn’t really be able to get into it.

    1. There is a demo out. Should give you a pretty good idea of how the game does history (personally, I found it problematic enough that I haven’t bought the game yet, but I’ll probably get it on sale some day).

  9. > I am also reminded of the Roman emperors Tiberius and Vespasian, both of whom for solid financial reasons could be as profligate as their predecessors, but are treated as misers in the sources for it (Vespasian gets away with it because unlike Tiberius, he had a sense of humor).

    Is “could” supposed to be “couldn’t” here? The sentence is sort of hard to parse as-is, though I guess you could mean that both found themselves in a better financial position than their predecessors, yet people were disappointed they didn’t scale up expenditures accordingly.

    1. I think it is supposed to be “couldn’t” (I even read it as that the first time). From what I’ve heard some economic historians believe, for example, that Tiberius’ sumptuary laws were necessary due to a trade imbalance with China and India. On that subject it is fun to note that Suetonius goes from lambasting Tiberius miserliness to in the next biography criticising Caligula for wasting all the money Tiberius had saved up

        1. Modern governments getting criticised for austerity has more to do with modern socio-economic politics than it does with issues of royal/imperial legitimacy-building.

  10. This DLC certainly presents a more accurate model of kingship than the earlier version of the game, where power was maintained by regular executions of peasants and foreigners to keep your Dread stat high.

  11. “the amazing and underappreciated Tyranny”

    Agreed, the way it sank so quickly out of view was sad.

  12. This was a rather interesting discussion! Though I wonder about your ‘standard roles of kingship’: for example Augustus seemed to for most of his reign had Agrippa act chief general (even if he oft portrayed himself in military attire) and let Lepidus keep the office of chief priest until his death (but perhaps this is a sign that Rome had not fully become a monarchy yet?). During the Shogunate in Japan the Emperor also seem to have kept the role of chief priest while the shogun acted as general and judge. And as you have said yourself medieval kings were not clearly chief priests of their societies because there was a separate clergy

    1. Well, this is always more complex in reality; virtually no ruler in history always carried out all of these roles. “Chief Priest” or “Head of Religion” would likely be the most commonly separable to the point that nowadays almost no country in the world unites the two. but even in ancient times it was very ordinary for the most influential religious figures to not be monarchs, although they might frequently be the heads of a wealthy and powerful temple. Of course, most ancient religion was also highly decentralized; state cults existed but were not universal as far as I am aware.

      1. With one fun counterexample being early-dynastic China (Shang and Zhou); the character for “King” is usually glossed as representing “the unifying link between the earth, the people, and the heavens” [1], and many oracle-bone inscriptions depict the kings trying to communicate with their ancestors to intervene with natural forces on behalf of the people.

        As a side thought, I wonder if one might make a broad unsupported generalization that the king’s role as religious leader was inversely proportional to the effectiveness/ubiquity of the earthly administration?

        [1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E7%8E%8B

        1. Oh I agree there are large number of examples where it is a true observation. It’s juts not necessarily universal. It seems to have been a broad cultural trait but not an omni-present one. And even when there was a strong association of the monarch to a religion, he (or sometimes she) was not always viewed as the head of it.

        2. The king is often not literally the chief priest (just like he is not literally the chief judge or chief general) but virtually all kings have some degree of sacrality to them; The king’s person is often itself considered holy (see french king’s alleged power to cure scrofula by laying on hands, which they did, in massive ceremonies) they are glossed as protectors of religion and the sacred spaces, and the ceremonies of kingship (coronations, etc.) are often infused with holiness.

      2. You are right, maybe chief priest is the most separable from the others, as shown by my non-Roman examples

      3. I don’t know about “no country . . . unites the two”: the King or Queen of England has been the Supreme Governor of the Church since Henry VIII. The last English monarch to preside over a legal proceeding, to my understanding, was James I, and I think he may only have done it once, to make a point.

        1. My actual statement includes the words “almost” for a reason. However, even in that case the monarch being the head of the Church of England is a highly theoretical point, since none of them have excercised any serious influence over it for many decades. It’s unclear if they could do so now even with a concerted effort.

    2. Augustus absolutely fills all three roles. He waits for Lepidus to die because the position of Pontifex Maximus was for life and the optics of killing the incumbent were terrible. It was clearly always his intent to take the position though.

      On the military side, Agrippa might command armies or fleets in practice, but as a formal, legal matter, Augustus had the command and all others acted merely as his deputies. This point actually ends up legally clarified in 27 BC when M. Licinius Crassus (grandson of the triumvir) requested a triumph and the right to dedicate the ‘spolia opima’ (arms won by a general in single combat against an enemy general); the fact that Augustus was actually, legally in command ruled out the latter and Crassus had to share his triumph with Augustus for that same reason.

      Under Augustus, the army swore a sacred oath to him, not to Agrippa or any other subordinate commander. And imperial propaganda is clear: the victory belonged to Augustus. Modern historians are quick to point out Agrippa’s role, but our sources far less so.

      1. Good points, perhaps I shouldn’t have questioned the judgements of a historian of the Roman military about the role of Augustus as general! I always thought it was unfair by Augustus to decline the right of spolia opima to Crassus, but as you say it makes perfect sense considering his role as legal head of the military. Especially as he was not a very soldierly person himself, being frail of health and (as I have understood it) never really commanding armies on his own, it might have been even more important for him to be seen as the foremost general of Rome

        1. Asking for a triumph and spolia optima was essentially asking to be named Augustus’ successor. The spolia optima was a legendary sacrifice. Throughout the history, only three leaders had been able to devote it. Becoming the fourth one would have involved such a boost on legitimacy and fame of Crassus that he would have become a very strong competitor for absolute power. After all, Octavianus became Augustus only the same year as Crassus’s triumph took place.

  13. “I’m reminded of a passage from the Kadesh Inscription, an Egyptian inscription from around 1295 BC which I often use with students; it recounts (in a self-glorifying and propagandistic manner) the Battle of Kadesh (1274 BC).”

    I realize ancient dates are often fuzzy, but it seems a little odd to date an inscription to 20 years *before* the event it describes.

    1. Good old battle of Kadesh! It was actually a disaster for the Egyptian forces thanks to the naivete of their young pharaoh but from Rameses POV it was a glorious moment as he displayed great personal valor as his over extended army fought like hell to survive until rescued. Some have doubted said personal valor but I don’t. Rameses splashed the story of the battle, including his own misjudgements, over every available wall in Egypt. He was tremendously proud of that particular battle and the only reason he could have had for harping on it is his own fine showing as a warrior.

      1. Maybe he needed to to tell a good story about his prowess, to shut up the widows and orphans in every village. “See, I know all of you lost fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. But with out me, there would be a lot more lost men.”

        1. The Alexiad has something similar. Anna describes how her father heroically rescues many men while on the retreat. When in reality the battle went poorly and he had to retreat, but she still tried to sell it that even though they retreated he was still doing great.

      2. Even today, it’s much better for a political leader to be a mitigator of disasters rather than a preventer of disasters. Leaders do often try to establish that the sky will fall if they go away, but the experience of most people in most times is that the sky will fall no matter what, so that argument tends to lack credibility.

        It’s rare for a political leader to create the problem through deliberate action because that can blow up in their faces. There was a rash of US Governors creating ‘budget emergencies’ and then assuming emergency budget powers that seems to have abated since the Flint water supply poisoning, for instance. It is, however, distressingly common for a political leader to create a problem through inattention, to simply not care until the crisis is in full swing. I don’t think I need to back that assertion up with examples (and anyway I don’t want to spend all day typing…)!

  14. What year is it in your Roman Empire final screen shot? You seem to be doing rather well for yourself. Have you been lucky, or are you just good at the game?

    1. Year is 1075. Not sure if that means I am good at the game, but it is roughly typical with how I’d expect to progress.

      I have played a lot of Paradox games, starting with HoI2 and EU3, so I’m quite familiar with the systems.

      1. You could have done more to exploit character Invitation and snap up all those Karling kingdoms with character claims, but I think rushing to end the Schism first was the correct choice. I’m not sure you can *have* a fun game if you make yourself responsible for simultaneous defense against the Abbasids and all the Vikings.

  15. Not a game, but the book “The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison does a really good job of covering these aspects of kingship. So much of the protagonists’ job as Emperor is wrapped up in arbitrating disputes between vassals and managing the relationships inherent in being the head of a powerful dynastic clan. And so many of his problems arise from not fitting into people’s views of what a ‘legitamite’ monarch should look like. It’s really good!

    1. I’m also a big Goblin Emperor fan in part for that reason.

      I’ve also been recently playing a board game that where all the players are the counsel and the king a mere implementer: King’s Dilemma. We’re three games in, so far the dilemmas largely are more policy choices (send an expedition? spend from the treasury to respond from to a famine?) than personalized land transfers or the like in a way that’s fun but less evocative of courts. But while a little off topic, for a rulership game to play with your friends its thus far been unparalleled for me.

  16. Are we going to get full historical breakdowns on CK3, Stellaris, and HOI4 in the same way as Vicky 2 and EU4?

      1. True, I just remembered you mentioning it in the past as an example of constructivist international theory

      2. ” Stellaris is notably not set in a historical period.”
        Depends how long you take to write the article about it…

        1. Stellaris also doesn’t fit with the others, or in this blog, in that it is not intended to be consistent with established principles of a real setting (in its case, those of physics, astrobiology, or astronautical engineering); rather, it runs on an assemblage of dead-horse sci-fi tropes. More succinctly: unlike the historical games, it is not in any way meant to be realistic.

  17. On a completely bizarre tangent, I am not certain what model of “Kingship” one would use in a fantasy setting, although fiction gives us some ideas. I mean, take Pathfinder: Kingmaker (not sure about WotR as I haven’t played and unsure whether the player has political authority) – When your personal power can exceed that of the ordinary military by several orders of magnitude, and the nobility may have to put up with your deity literally blessing your rule, I am not sure that traditional courtly models make sense under the circumstances.

    Arguably the biggest issue would be succession, since that becomes MUCH more troublesome when you have personal power than can’t be passed on at all.

    I suppose the example of the Dune series would be an interesting take here.

    1. This also brings the question of legitimacy into this discussion. For example if a mundane human ruler wanted to control people through force of arms he would not be able to do it on his own. He would need to convince various people to fight for him or send people to fight for him and supply the troops, but replace our human ruler with say some powerful dragon or some powerful mage. It’s entirely possible in this scenario if people rebelled the mage could cast spells to do a huge amount of damage with little or no help or the dragon could go over and just burn the rebelling people to death with ease by themselves. Now in this scenario legitimacy is still something that is useful(and will still be needed for many many things) in order to better coordinate people but the fact is out hypothetical figures simply don’t need it for the purposes I have described. It does seem like the bigger the gap in personal power and the power of the group in the favor of this individual, and the fewer people who have such levels of personal power the less the phrase “no one rules alone” really applies when dealing with this sort of speculative fiction

      1. The rule of wizards would produce incredible changes, but there would still be the problem that you have to not burn them all to death if you need them.

        (One big change was that young wizards are a power in their own right; you can’t just tell the soldiers that the Crown Prince is relieved of command and to throw him in chains.)

        1. Depending on how magic works in this setting. The more random magical abilities are, the truer your statement is, but if magic can be taught like a mundane skill or inherited like eye color, then it could easily be controlled by the ruling class through a magic academy/apprenticeship system for noble children and/or light eugenics.

          1. In a ruling class, only some people are rulers. The king can throw the crown prince in a dungeon and disinherit him. No amount of eugenics or instruction will prevent that the younger generation will have a lot more clout than the older might like.

      2. I think the Lord Ruler in Mistborn is probably the top example here. He’s pretty much immortal and unstoppable, and when there’s a massive rebellion by the slave caste in his capital he’s not at all concerned hundreds of thousands of people including most of the city garrison want to kill him. But he still needs a massive bureacracy/priesthood to actually control his empire and to persuade people he’s an infallible god so people weeks away by canal boat don’t get the idea they can get away with misreporting their harvests as long as they bribe the priest-accountant.

      3. There’s a recent children’s movie that examines this idea. A queen too young to rule in her own name hides her powers. But shortly after her coronation she begins to terrorize the populace with her sorcery believing herself to be above any legal restraint or even concept of morality. Her sister engages in more traditional forms of royal legitimacy building and goes on a quest to free the kingdom from the queen’s depredations.

          1. Actually, I think Frozen is interesting for a discussion of legitimacy, and now that I’m reminded of it in a forum where people might know the answer: I’m curious if my thoughts during my first viewing when it came out actually make sense from a historical perspective.

            Elsa literally throws her crown away during “Let it Go”, which I thought would be considered an absolutely appalling display of disrespect of the kingdom as a whole by a noble in her time–and Elsa herself would think so! The half-remembered example that came to mind was the accusation against (I think) James II of throwing the seal away during his flight.

            I thought the scene showed her having a complete meltdown and becoming a villain, and I thought it was a complete copout that it turns out she was only inadvertently causing problems. If I understood it correctly–and this was before finding this site, but nothing I remember reading here has caused me to change my opinion–casting away the regalia of her rule displayed contempt for her subjects. I think a more compelling story could have been told if she was actually deliberately doing it and had to be brought around.

            (Frozen 2 also has a similar copout with the dam driving the plot. I admit this is more idiosyncratic to me as somebody who works in heavy civil works on dams.

            People build dams for reasons! Those reasons might be bad, or might have become bad since it was built, but there was always a purpose for them! But they never even hint at what that purpose was, and a more compelling story exists if you do that, even without changing the villainy.

            What we saw in the movie was a substantial structure that would be a massive investment by even a modern government, much less the relatively tiny kingdom we see in the movie. Why did they do this?! There are seven general purposes for which you build a dam, and we can discard several out of hand as not period appropriate, and a few more of the remaining just based on the visual. (They’re obviously not building this thing to improve a navigation on the river!) The ones that make sense are: Flood control, irrigation, and water supply, though even that last one is really iffy from a period perspective.

            So losing the dam would mean losing these benefits to Arendelle, and, as I said, they paid a lot of money to get them. Plus, you get path-dependence. If they started cultivating additional land because it was now not flooding or had more irrigation, the people on that land will be very, very angry with the king if he tries to take it back. Or if the capital is relying on the water provided by an aqueduct from the dam, it may have enabled it to grow to a point where it *needs* the water to stay viable as a city.

            None of these would mean that Arendelle wasn’t screwing the native tribes with the dam–possibly they thought they could manage the deleterious effects on wildlife but it turns out their mitigation measures failed–or that the king still wasn’t a villain for trying to murder his counterpart.

            But the villainy would at least make sense if he was in a bind where he would either torque off both his nobles and his peasants by not keeping the benefits of the dam after spending all that money he extracted to build it!)

          2. I was being a bit cheeky above but I do think that Elsa was probably intended to be more of a villain than she ended up being. The lyrics include “no right, no wrong, no rules for me” which I alluded to above, “turn away and slam the door” explicitly running away from responsibilities, and “Let the storm rage on / The cold never bothered me anyway” showing callous disregard for the effects of the storm on others, both metaphorical and physical, because they don’t bother her specifically. It’s a classic villain song. And the titular Snow Queen from the original fairy tale is also a villain. I suspect they changed it because they knew they had a huge hit with “Let it Go” when it was sung more along the lines of a heroine’s power ballad.

      4. I mean, yes, the more personal power the ruler has, the less they have to rely on others. This is obvious if we consider the extreme; a truly omnipotent ruler can, by definition, enforce their will without need for any intermediaries or allies. But I don’t think the effect is that dramatic for the kinds of dragons/wizards/etc you usually see in fantasy.

        Smoog’s fiery breath can destroy almost any army and his scales resist almost any weapon, but how does that make it easier for him to collect taxes—does he personally fly to every town and threaten to torch their crops if they don’t pay up, and what does he do with the unproductive ashen fields of those who still refuse? How does he convey his commands to his subjects—does he have intermediaries, and how does he keep them in line? And Smoog presumably isn’t unique; what can he do if some of his subjects decide to hire or beg a dragonslayer to kill Smoog for them—or hell, if they decide to pledge fealty to a different dragon?

        A dragon-king could get away with more than a mortal king could, just as the king of a centralized monarchical state could get away with more than the leader of a decentralized federation of nobles. But if King Smoog wants to get anything useful out of his kingdom, he still needs enough legitimacy (in whatever form is relevant to his subjects) to convince them to go along with his rule.

    2. I think you probably still have to do similar courtly things, especially if there are other superpowered people out there. You want to persuade people that your massive supply of personal badassery translates into you being a good ruler if you want them to do what you say when you aren’t personally in a position to smash them, and you want to persuade people who could take you in a fight that they should do what you say anyways. And if your deity is personally blessing your rule, unless he actually makes appearances frequently to tell people you’re awesome, you still have to get the word out and make sure your farmers know the great harvest is because your deity approves of your rule and not because Jim Bob the farmer sacrificed that white calf last spring. Also, you may still have to do the chief priest stuff because your deity wants you to and if you don’t pretty soon he’s going to be blessing Jim Bob’s rule.

      The other key thing that’s going to come up in a fantasy setting is all the adventuring you do in Kingmaker; if you don’t go beat up the fireproof trolls everyone is going to ask what they’re paying you for. If someone else comes along and beats up the fireproof trolls, everyone is going to ask them to be king. And if you say “but I can beat him up” people aren’t going to believe that because they beat up the fireproof trolls and you didn’t.

    3. Girl Genius has one version. Traditional nobility (based on their ancestors chopping off heads but also some sort of legitimacy) getting bumped by Sparks, Mad Scientists, usually far better at superweapons and creating people-substitutes then at people skills. Since they *are* good at such things, the world (or Europe, anyway) descends into chaos and terror as they squabble with weapons, minions, monsters, and plagues.

      The worlds of _The Black Company_ and _The March North_ are similar, except with more actual overpowered wizards. (And in the latter case, one egalitarian counter to them.) (And in the former case, the Lady seems to have built up some legitimacy via good governance, though personal magic power of herself and the Taken is also important.)

      One could probably discuss the Princesses of Power from She-Ra, but I haven’t seen enough, so I can’t.

      1. Girl Genius does not go back to a time when mad scientists did not rule the world — badly. The royalty and nobility are all Sparks.

        They still do some legitimacy stuff.

        1. From the Secret Blueprints, the very beginning of the project:

          “As alchemy grew into science there developed a powerful enough body of knowledge that those with the Spark were able to seize power from older warlord lineages. This early technological elite became the basis for the later Great Houses, in which the Spark often ran (sometimes explosively) through family lines. It was a perfect combination of the old saws “might makes right” and “knowledge is power”. New empires coalesced around the Great Houses and lasted only as long as the power of the Spark in residence remained strong.”

          The Storm King, just two hundred years before the ‘present’, wasn’t a Spark. Zulenna’s family is royal, but non-Sparky. Moonbark in England mentioned “the first really powerful modern Sparks” of 300 years ago. The Great Houses of Sparks have been seizing power from the Fifty Families of royalty/nobility; the more successful Families have been marrying into Sparkiness, like real nobles marrying merchant wealth.

          The Heterodynes were ahead of the game in this as in so many things, Sparky warlords for the past 1000 years, and Albia was off being her god-queen self, and the comic is revealing how much the world has been shaped by mad science over thousands of years… but the Europan [sic] ruling class was mostly basic warlords for the past few thousand years, until the past few centuries.

          1. And on legitimacy, Agatha gets an enormous amount of it when she gets to Mechanicsburg and is accepted by the (AI) Castle.

            “Prove yourself the Heterodyne—hold the Castle—and there is nothing you can’t do in Mechanicsburg.”

          2. The Storm King managed, famously, through the work of “the greatest spark of the time”

          3. > accepted by the (AI) Castle.

            Right! And a recent Christmas side story hinted at another legitimacy-building custom of the Heterodynes. OTOH, being accepted by the Castle comes with a terrifying amount of violent power at your command, too.

            > “the greatest spark of the time”

            Valois had the help of that and other Sparks, yes. But he wasn’t a Spark himself, he was a traditional noble, forming an alliance of nobles and Sparks against the Heterodynes.

            Actually Girl Genius also gives us a couple examples of defiance of legitimacy, explicitly mentioned in the text. The Heterodynes are just “the Heterodyne”, without any conventional title; internally they’re an absolute monarch, to everyone else they’re a semi-sessile raiding warlord who ignores all the rules. And Baron Klaus Wulfenbach built an empire while rejecting any higher title than ‘Baron’, as if he didn’t want to pretend he was based on anything other than brute force; Martellus outright says Klaus could have had the Fifty Families eating out of his hand if he’d “deigned to call himself emperor”, but instead he made a mockery of their titles by refusing to do so.

            On the flip side, Klaus had a partial legitimacy in the eyes of common people like Master Payne, for not being an asshole, making peace, and getting essential shit done. But he was illegitimate in the eyes of royals like Tarvek and Martellus, and whatever long game he might have been playing cost his son dearly in the short term after things went chaotic.

          4. But Klaus when he decided his son needed to get married, his first thought was someone from the Great Families.

    4. This is a very interesting topic which you’ll be able to really dive into sometime next winter.

      Suffice it to say that most generic fantasy stories in no way represent plausible societies given the magic they possess. There are some that do okay such as The Black Company or maybe Malazan.

      Something that typically helps hold stories together is that the magic users are the noble class so they sort of act as a check on each other.

      Some stories also limit the long term ability of magic users to churn out big spells. This is also something you’ll be able to experience yourself.

      1. I would have to say a setting that comes to when talking about how societies would change with magic is the errbon setting from D&D. It’s a world that is in the midist of a 19th century esque industrial revolution but with magic instead of the technology of our world. The author of the setting (who has a blog with a number of neat articles articles that I will link discussing the setting) calls it a wide magic setting, where spell effects up to 3rd level spells are common and are reshaping society.





      2. Seems to me that magic as a relatively common resource would change a great deal more than most fantasy – even Eberron – realises. Gender relations change with healing, childbirth and contraception – and more if a woman with a wand is a potent threat. Ruling changes, as some of the key props are replaced by others (knights out, news in). Magic is almost everywhere pictured as responsive, even intentional – which implies other active powers, so religion changes, and the legitimising role of religion changes. Every element of Gellner’s Plough, Book and Sword changes. I’ve been writing my way into a world of common magic for some time, and each book makes me re-think it.

    5. The ruler would still need the apparatus of the state (or the assistance of nobles) to get a lot of things done. Magic might make you a one-man army, but are you also a one-man tax collector, road builder, judge, police officer, etc?

      Long Live the Queen is a game where the main character can get magic powers (and do some pretty neat stuff with them), but she still has to spend most of her time settling disputes between nobles and doing courtly things, because you can’t solve all your problems by shooting fireballs at them. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of using mundane skills like public speaking or domestic intelligence so that you actually know what the problems are and can defuse them in advance.

      Also, solving problems by personally shooting fireballs at them (or stabbing them) is a risky strategy because it means putting your life on the line whenever there’s a problem. After the third time you have to reload a previous save because your Wield Magic skill wasn’t high enough, you might decide to just not put yourself in those situations instead.

      1. Unless you get mind control powers, you can’t make people do things with magic. You can, at most, make them regret not doing them.

      2. Risky if you’re more loaded with offensive than defensive magic. There are scenarios where the mage-king (or literal god-king) is effectively invulnerable. …though I guess you were talking about a particular game, not fantasy in general.

        But consider Sauron. Effectively invulnerable vs. his subjects, especially in the Second Age. Even possessed of limited amounts of actual mind control. Still, must have had various ways to issue orders and get reports and all that, and Tolkien hints at bureaucracy and religion-based ‘legitimacy’. Plus his attempt to acquire slave-kings, undermined when the kings turned into invisible fear-wraiths.

        1. Magic can do anything the author says it can, so of course throwing more magic at the problem is always a solution. But outside of some very high-powered settings like Exalted (where the god-king can be a one-man army, bureaucracy, diplomatic corps, construction company, and then celebrate their accomplishments by singlehandedly catering the best royal banquet ever), you probably have some use for subordinates, if only to limit the number of things you have to pay attention to at once.

    6. Depending on how much power you have you run into the nuke pardox: Sure, you can wipe out a city that displeases you but that means *you no longer have a city*, so that puts a limit on when you can use that kind of power: IE: The disobedience must be worth the cost of losing all that tax revenue at the very least. So you’re still going to need a bureaucracy to handle the stuff beneath that threshold.

    7. I suppose a lot would depend of the rulers powers, and how much that distinguished them from the ruled.

      For example, I once read a portal fantasy (whose name and author I can infuriatingly no longer remember) in which the rightful King (or ruling Queen) was by grace of God always right about any matter of politics or war. It would be fun arguing for democracy in that society.

    8. One book that I think is interesting from this perspective is Jade City, where “biogenic jade” (just jade to the main characters) grants superpowers but can cause mental instability, eventually ending in “the Itches” shortly followed by death. The titular city is de-facto ruled by basically crime families gone legit, and Lan, Pillar of No Peak, has to secure his authority by seeming a decisive war leader and by balancing the interests of his tributary Lantern Men, buisness owners who pay money and find people jobs and in return expect things like getting building permits to come through and strikebreaking, the lattet of which is a bit of a headache because the union bosses are also Lantern Men. Lan is insecure because his father is still alive (suffering from dementia) and his brother Hilo is overshadowing him as Chief General.

      The fantasy part comes in when there’s an assassination attempt on Hilo, which Lan takes to be a sign that he’s really short on legitimacy because his enemies don’t take his leadership seriously enough to put a hit on him. Lan, over the advice of Hilo and his other top enforcers*, duels and kills the assassin and takes his jade. That’s a problem; he’s already got a ton of jade and a hit he took in the duel messed up his life energy so the added jade is too much for him. But a Pillar needs to show he can “handle his green” and Hilo has more jade than Lan does even with the new stuff. So Lan needs to ostentatiously wear all of his jade all the time, even though it’s making him zone out during key meetings with the Lantern Men.

      I should note that this is Lan’s view on the matter; I have this sense that he’s got an inferiority complex and is underestimating the extent to which people think his brother is a brave and fierce fighter but Lan’s got a solid head on his shoulder, and no one seriously thinks Hilo would be a better Pillar.

      *They argue for a “death of consequence” where the guy would fight armed and with his jade but against like six elite No Peak fighters. Only one guy has ever survived this. He is, unfortunately, on the other team.

  18. Wasn’t another tactic to select a noble who you thought were plotting a rebellion, go to his court and eat all his food and force him to spend all his money to entertain you? Assuming he wasn’t so far along in his plotting that he could actually raise the flag?

    1. Absolutely. I think the key is that “Schemes” in CK3 is a specific mechanic, so if you hold court in my duchy, this might both foil my schemes (in the vernacular sense) but also make it easier for me to target you with Schemes (in the game mechanic sense). Bret alludes to “making it more difficult to join a Faction” above as well, which is a similar thing. Rebellions will generally mean Factions in CK, not Schemes.

      Schemes can include assassination, but they can also be things like befriending or seducing someone, or gaining blackmail material or a bargaining advantage, or convincing them to join your witches’ coven. Most of that is easier when you’re staying at my place: I can search your stuff or suborn your guards or catch you alone for a quiet word in the garden much more easily than I could if I was visiting you.

  19. At a very basic level, the former might give the player the option each time court is held to pick the vassal who plays host (for a big opinion bonus with them, but perhaps also enhancing their ability to scheme against you)

    Depends on how long you stay, because your host has to foot the bill.

    What you do is stay for a day or two at the household of loyal vassals, thus giving them honor, and for MUCH longer at those of untrustworthy ones, thus rendering them bankrupt.

    1. I believe that is called a white elephant, a gift that eats money but can’t be thrown away out of social obligation, and is an alternative that kings in Thailand did to subjects they disliked.

      1. Alexander famously sent an elephant to Aristotle, and the sum of money needed to keep it to his academic rival (so forcing them to make up). Lionel Sprague de Camp turned it into a historical fiction (An Elephant for Aristotle).

        1. This is a very late reply for the benefit of future readers, but this incident does not appear in the historical record. Per the novel’s Wikipedia page, “The story is founded on the fact that Aristotle’s writings include an apparently eye-witness description of an Indian elephant, though the circumstances under which he might have come into contact with such an animal are unknown.”

  20. Typo: “demense” should be demesne.

    Pedantry: Per chevron purpure et argent, a chat (I suspect the program doesn’t really do cats, so it is actually a lion) sable passant.

  21. I love how these “minor” posts often have a pretty deep insight. What you say about the legitimacy of kings definitely applies to all governments to some degree. The need to look the part and adorn yourself any your court can seem quaint or even offensive in the context of democratic government, but there are clear parallels. In the case of US presidents, the last two were particularly contentious and had a lot of claims against their legitimacy partly because of exactly that: Obama very much looked the part to some but to others his skin color alone was unacceptable, and Trump certainly went all out for flaunting his wealth while maintaining the celebrity persona which to some was his biggest offense. The way the media covered them often focused on details of appearance as well, the tan suit of Obama or Trump changing the decor of the White House.

    My first thought, though, was that the role of judge is probably the most primary role of government, from a tribal level to modern states. I remember reading articles on the Taliban and ISIS, and without fail they set up courts. Often quite brutal courts, but in Afghanistan in particular where having efficient and even slightly fair local courts was not a given, the Taliban were often praised by locals quoted in these sort of articles for having set up courts in villages and settling disputes. Closer to home, what is the BLM movement if not a critical movement of the justice system (in more ways than one).

    On “chief general” and “chief priest” I am paradoxically reminded of Stalin, Mao, and the North Korean Kim dynasty. Stalin and Mao were both clearly effective generals overall (I have read various criticisms but you can’t deny the overall victories they achieved), and Kim Il Sung certainly user his background as a resistance fighter against the Japanese as a key aspect of his legitimacy. But in all three cases, a personality cult that exist to this day surrounds all three leaders, and as the leaders of particular schools of communism they retain that luster in some circles. Obviously the entire continuation of the Kim dynasty hinges a lot on a near religious devotion.

    That’s not to ignore the founding mythology as embodied by the president in the United States but I think the above three took it to a level mostly reserved for long dead presidents like Washington and Lincoln.

    1. IIRC setting up parallel, “guerilla” courts was also a key part of Maoist insurgent doctrine. Even if you sometimes can’t enforce your judgments (because the loser goes to the government/army/Americans for protection), handing down a fair verdict builds legitimacy and pretty soon you often CAN enforce the judgments because everyone in the village knows that what the verdict was and considers it a done deal.

    2. I will vociferously deny that Stalin achieved victories. The best thing that he did was realize that his talents lay in fields besides operational planning, unlike his counterpart in Berlin.

        1. “Oh please” what? It’s pretty straightforward. Obama is generally agreed to have one ‘white’ parent and one ‘black’ parent… And yet just about everyone regards him as ‘black.’ This suggests that either our definition of ‘black’ is such that having even one drop of black ancestry makes you ‘black,’ or our defintion of ‘white’ is such that having even one drop of nonwhite ancestry makes you ‘white.’ Since we also apply the same standard to, say, ‘Asian’ or ‘Hispanic,’ it’s pretty clear that our culture assigns this concept to ‘white.’ If some of your ancestors are non-white, then the culture doesn’t view you as white, unless of course the nonwhite ancestry is super-duper-deniable and hidden (e.g. Elizabeth Warren is ‘white,’ not ‘Cherokee,’ and the idea that things are otherwise is mocked, but if Obama claimed to be ‘white,’ not ‘black,’ HE would be mocked)

          1. If one drop makes one black than I am black despite being paler than Caspar the Ghost.
            That’s why ‘Oh Please’.

          2. There were literally “one drop” laws during slavery and Jim Crow, as well as words defining how much “black” blood someone had, like ‘quantaroon’ for someone with one black grand parent.

          3. My understanding is that Spanish America had a more complex racial hierarchy, running: born in Europe/100% European ancestry/mixed white-Indian ancestry/mixed white-black ancestry/Indian/black. The United States had a more binary white/non-white hierarchy, although small amounts of Indian ancestry did not disqualify one from “white” status. (And of course, small amounts of concealed black ancestry did not disqualify one either.)

          4. It was notorious that a octoroon — one great-grandparent, the limit during the 19th century — could easily pass for white.

            There were freedom suits, sometimes won, where a person would claim to be a kidnapped white being falsely passed off as an octoroon.

          5. A planter’s octoroon daughter — often ignorant that she is a black slave — who is suddenly plunged into full knowledge when her father’s bankruptcy or death has her sold was a stock figure of abolitionist literature.

        2. My point was that technically Barrack Obama is 50% black, 50% white. His parents look like a slice of a chessboard. It’s equally justified to call him black, as white. Yet practically everywhere I go I hear he’s a “black” president. I didn’t even know he had a (very) white parent prior to watching that video.

          The whole notion of human “races” is one of the dumbest and most harmful ideas we came up with. Purity of race or blood mostly leads to inbreeding. There’s research showing that all you need for discord is to divide people into groups. Then our deeply rooted tribal instincts kick in. They can be completely arbitrary such as the Blue and Green chariot teams.

    3. The US is kind of weird on its legitimating displays. Most federal government offices legitimate themselves through a display of tattiness: ‘umble servants of the people. The US, after all, thinks it is a democracy. The only princely federal government offices I have seen belong to the President (and Veep), the federal courts, and–drumroll–the Federal Reserve Banks. (I’m talking about the offices themselves, since some very grungy offices are housed in magnificent edifices. Congress is one example.)

  22. Once again, a timely post. It’s been interesting to watch Volodymyr Zelensky as the Ukrainian crisis evolves. He’s completely dropped the business-casual aesthetic lately, and now dresses just like Presidents and Prime Ministers of EU countries.

    1. Coming back to this much later, and in the wake of the fact that as I write this, the Russo-Ukrainian War has been going on for most of a year…

      It’s also interesting to watch Zelensky as he’s navigated the transition from “peacetime leader in a crisis” to “wartime leader.” Since he is performing the role of “wartime president” and not “king,” Zelensky has deliberately cultivated an common-man aesthetic that emphasizes his humility and commonality with the average Ukrainian citizen in this time of terrible national suffering.

      He’s grown a short beard, bringing with it associations of soldiers who often do not have time to shave on the battlefield. He often goes out of his way to set himself up for photo ops and speeches where he is seen in fairly tight-fitting tight military T-shirts that emphasize his physical fitness (he is 44, young and in his prime compared to other prominent world leaders such as Joe Biden or Vladimir Putin). He makes a constant stream of memorable quips that are well placed to “go viral” on social media the world over.

      Remember Zelensky, far more literally than normal, came into power by acting the part of “president of the Ukraine.” Specifically, his starting claim to fame was playing the role on a popular TV show, and apparently he was so convincing in that fictional version of the role that the Ukrainian people decided they wanted him filling the real version.

      This is a man who knows how to manage his appearance and actions to cultivate legitimacy and support from the people of his nation. And for whom the path from playing the role of authority, to actually exercising authority, is not even slightly a metaphor.

  23. > just think about the degree to which ‘looking presidential/prime-ministerial’ varies from modern country to country

    Or, in the current case of the UK, has been completely abandoned as a working concept

    1. Whereas in the recent cases of the US, acting presidential has been completely abandoned as a working concept.

    2. That’s an interesting thing that does happens more often in modern democracies but did happen in the game time period occasionally, even in monarchies, but doesn’t really seem to be in the game much. But any system where there has been legitimacy and power available from popular opinion at the low end of the income scale, you occasionally see leaders who pick some element of ‘appropriate’ style and deliberately flaunt it to prove they are on the side of the people at the bottom of the social pyramid. It’s especially likely when the leader has an outlook where actually doing anything concrete for the commons is never going to happen, and also seen when the leader is constrained from doing anything by other factions.
      The game meanwhile has a couple of semi-random events where you can make a choice to sacrifice some of your standing with rich people (who are modeled as characters in the game) in exchange for a positive change in the abstract stat which represents how all of the people too…obscure…to be modeled in the game feel about you. Other than that, most of the ‘negative’ character Traits are appealing to some other characters and you can aggressively promote people who like your bad qualities, but there’s nothing like simply getting an ugly haircut to pander to people who hate expensive haircuts.

      1. I do think that modern parliamentary democracies have an interesting… glitch, in that regard, in that the Prime minister (or equivalent) *isn’t supposed to be the legitimacy-building bloke* but rather a faceless bureaucrat doing the job at the behest of the legitimate sovereign (be it parlaiment, or the people or the monarch, depending on exact timeframe) this doesen’t quite work and often leads to different weird bits and prime ministerhoods developing their own languages of legitimacy, but it’s an interesting contrast.

      2. Edward II of England was mocked for indulging in ‘peasant’ pursuits (swimming, thatching). Louis XI of France was admired for hanging out with charcoal burners and foresters and skinning the deer he killed (although foreign ambassadors were appalled to be asked to hold a leg). It’s in how you do it.

  24. That comment about Vespasian’s sense of humor is interesting. Particularly in the modern political climate it’s interesting to see the ways that personal characteristics can have an effect on legitimacy, and on what the people will expect of you.

  25. CK3 is actually rather deficient in mechanically representing the time period it ostensibly portrays. Royal Court is another attempt at hiding this behind pomp and graphical granduer.

    Paradox will probably never even try to change this since they lack competition and this is the easy way out vs making the game more representative.

    What is interesting is that it isn’t that difficult to apply a level of mechanical representation 1 or even 2 magnitudes more effective. Several games that at least partially compete with CK3 or EU4/Victoria are on the horizon. We’ll see if the barbarians at the gates push Paradox to innovate or reform.

    Paradox is somewhat limited by producing realtime games but there’s plenty of performance space open to them if they had any real reason to evolve.

    I suspect that the audience for a simulation with more verisimilitude is also relatively small. Most influences/content creators as they like to call themselves are just memers and the audiences they bring are similar. Putting a pretty facade over a crumbling edifice and and calling in the clowns could probably keep Paradox from falling apart financially for another decade or so.

  26. This reminds me of CGP Grey’s Rules for Rulers video, and The Dictator’s Handbook on which that video is based. Could you do a review of one or both of them at some point?

  27. I have to disagree with your interpretation of John being the hardworking financier trying to clean up Richard’s mess. English folk memory detested him for a reason. His acute financial troubles happen after he loses Normandy and Maine in 1204 and he keeps trying to take them back and failing. And he loses those territories because he was such a bad egg he needlessly alienated the nobles in those territories (including stealing a bride from those Lusignans). Richard is a successful French warlord not the English folk hero, but he’s successful and not a moron so he could get away with his financial demands.
    (this is based on reading Marc Morris’s book on John)

  28. Justice was regarded by subjects as a vital aspect of rulership. A ‘Good King’ made himself available to petitioners and gave just verdicts off the cuff. Many are the anecdotes of Emperors and kings doing just that. Possibly apocryphal but showing the ideals of the time.

    Hadrian is said to have told and importunate old woman that he had no time to hear her. Then stop being emperor! She replied. Hadrian took her point and heard her out. Alfred the Great was pursued into his private chamber by petitioners. He heard them out patiently and gave a fair verdict.

    Another popular trope was queens or consorts interceding with their husbands, tempering his sterness with her compassion. Male rulers were supposed to be strict but there was nothing unmanly about allowing the pleas of their beloved wife to temper cold justice.

    1. The other archetypical story is the ruler walking around incognito and delivering snap judgements to those secretly corrupt. Harun al-Rashid and Charles XI both have legends to that effect. (and in the latter case, at least slightly based in reality: He did have a habit of showing up on surprise inspections)

  29. > The situation for monarchs is actually more acute than for other forms of government. Democracies and tribal councils and other forms of consensual governments have vast pools of inherent legitimacy that derives from their government form

    It’s then striking that monarchy has so often been the default, at least at larger scales of society.

    1. In my opinion, there is a lot of modern bias in that paragraph, and I don’t think one can speak of “inherent legitimacy” completely separate from the culture and socialization. Democracy has an inherent legitimacy in a democratic society, but in a society which does not value democracy so highly, not so much.

      1. Well, obviously. But the structure of democracy provides more legitimacy to a democracy than the structure of monarchy does for a monarch. Monarchs derive most of their legitimacy from their kingly characteristics (or ability to make themselves look kingly), while a democratic ruler can rely more on the institution of democracy. As long as the state’s democratic institutions are perceived as legitimate by democratic standards, of course.

        1. Monarchy can also invite the question of “why shouldn’t *I* be king?”, with resulting scheming and civil war. Even if legitimacy depends on the right bloodline, there’s family in-fighting, as well options of marrying-in or simply forging your ancestry.

          Legitimacy coming from an active majority of the people is harder to directly contest, especially the more democratic it is. A strong presidency might be almost as worth fighting over as a kingship, especially if the president can manipulate or suspend elections, but consider modern Switzerland, where the people can easily vote on and strike down _any_ law they don’t like. “Being in charge” isn’t a big prize, there.

          1. Though you still need personal legitmacy if you want to win the next election.

            Which is why our President is about to call together the legislature, all but one of his line of succession, and selected citizens and give a speech in which he will describe his plans and talk about his successes, which will be broadcast to the nation. It also satisfies a constitutional requirement, but a letter would cover that too.

          2. which is why claims that a President is not legitimately elected endanger the whole system. It occurs to me that this might relate to the breakdown of American political norms: we haven’t had a President generally accepted as legitimate since Clinton. People (obviously different ones) think/thought Bush was illegitimate because of the Florida thing, Obama because he was black/not actually a natural-born citizen/etc., Trump because he massively lost the popular vote/Russian propaganda/behavior totally unfit for the Presidency, and Biden because of the claims of mail-in ballot fraud.

  30. As I’ve heard it, Elsa definitely was originally planned to be a villain. Then the songwriter handed them “Let It Go”, and a lot of re-writing happened. As for the crown, no one saw her throw it…

    Magic and social changes: Jo Walton’s Arthurian _The King’s Peace_ has easy access to healing and reproductive magic via prayers to the land gods, with notable effects on society. Also lordship involves a more direct relationship with the land gods, also with effects on legitimacy. Speaking of which:

    ‘“Let this be heard,” said Urdo, in the Tanagan tongue and in the same even tone he had used the night before invoking the goddess. “All gods of earth and sky, and all gods of home and hearth and kindreds of people. All who may have concern in this matter draw near and take note. And may the White God who hears and holds all oaths from all people hold all that we shall say in this place this day to the truth, where all oathtwisting and lies shall be plainly seen as oathbreaking. And I who speaks am Urdo ap Avren ap Emrys, War-leader of the Tanagans, High King of the island of Tir Tanagiri by right of birth, by right of conquest, and by right of election by all principalities.” It was the first time I had ever heard him say that. It was the first time it would ever have been true for him to have said it. His voice remained grave and calm. “I will judge as well as I might in equity, before the mighty ones.”’

    Oaths and legitimacy!

    Twelve Kingdoms babies growing on trees with divine approval has effects on women’s roles in that society.

    Fantasy legitimacy: the Highlord of the Kencyrath really does rule by inherited divine right. Also from the oaths he holds, and the psychic bond among his people. If he exerted his magical powers, he really could give orders that have to be obeyed. So he can look like a schlub if he wants, his kingship is undeniable. Similarly the kings/emperors of the Twelve Kingdoms are marked out by the kirin, divine beasts, and if the king turns astray the kingdom suffers disasters and eventually the kirin and king die. It can still take some work to get the bureaucracy effecting the royal orders rather than getting in the way, though.

    prime ministers: I think James Nicoll put it as having ceremonial monarchs like Liz II to safely divert and ground the “dangerous head of state mana” away from the powerful head of government. The human tendency to look up to a leader gets to focus on someone with no power; the person who has the legitimacy of democratic backing doesn’t also get the legitimacy of ceremony.

  31. I loved the new actions you got as a vassal of a King. The fealty relationship boost was nice and very flavorful and I like that I can specifically petition an AI king/emperor for all sorts of things (pay off my debts, transfer vassalage, war for my claims etc.)

  32. Several comments for now.
    As for “holding court” once in five years – while the game time is clearly too slow, it is plausible in one limited sense.
    “Holding court” once in more than 4 years is what Elizabeth I did – and was praised for.
    Because there is pretty clear institutional development continuity from William the Bastard´s “wearing the crown” three times a year to Gloriana´s Parliaments – 13 in 45 years of reign.
    But see how this decrease of frequency came about. “Court” means an open unroofed space surrounded by buildings and fences. “Court” also means the people around a ruler – both advisors and other servants. And “court” also means a specialized organization to resolve disputes.
    In 12th…13th century England, the third formed because the King assigned some of his servants to do the specialized job of resolving disputes, without direct participation of King but in his name – forming Common Pleas and King´s Bench.
    This does not mean the King/Queen stopped showing her grandeur. Elizabeth I let 4+ years pass between Parliaments, but she did hold royal progresses in between. She did not sit in Queen´s Bench trying cases, but she did exercise patronage and distribute pork barrels between Parliaments.
    As for “holding a court was not optional”… yes, there were times when a ruler could not skip that duty, and there also were long periods when a ruler could not do it. There also must have been periods when holding court WAS optional for a ruler – separate judiciary existed but was not universally accepted as independent. Which meant that if the ruler invoked his prerogatives of discretionary review to overturn a court judgment and discipline judges for injustice, he was critizised by one party and if he refused to interfere with courts and law, he was critizised by the other.
    Now about “being effective king” vs. “staying king”… the priorities between these varied.
    When the king is doing a bad job at running a government, the nobles had various options:
    a) shut up and serve the king loyally as always
    b) go home, be a rich landowner and if the king wants anything such as taxes or military service, send excuses
    c) go after the king, kill or capture him or chase him away and make someone else king
    The more people do b), the fewer people are left for a) and the easier is it for the people doing c) to overcome those who do a). But legitimacy or disinterest can mean that there are few people who want to do c), and therefore a king has good prospects to stay king, even if a weak king. In this case, becaming a weak king is a less serious but much more likely threat than becoming an overthrown king.
    Which means thas you can look at the limits and options of kings by looking at what became of king and country under a weak king.
    One example of a weak king is Henry VI of England. And he got overthrown and killed… after a long period of misrule.
    But another example is his grandfather – Charles VI of France.
    Charles VI died of natural causes. He was called king all the time.
    And yet it in an important sense sucked to be Charles VI. Quite apart from the mental distress he experienced in his psychotic fits… even though he continued to enjoy privileged care compared to what would have happened to a lowborn madman, he was surely humiliated and distressed. His brother was murdered and his son disinherited.

    Someone who had the option to be a weak king like Charles VI (even with assurance of survival and care) or choose to be at least a mediocre king would surely choose to be at least mediocre, and exert some effort for it. Being surrounded by people who take care of you because you are well-born and they should, but who look out for themselves every step because they know you won´t or can´t is nowhere as good as being surrounded by people who are actively eager to please you because they know you are inclined to take care for them because it is easy for you to do so.

  33. What is interesting is that while in the beginning the King is the First Knight among the other Military Aristocrats of the Round Table.

    As War gets more and more democratized like in China:


    As bureaucracies that grow up around the King are able to raise up more armed men with standardized mass produced equipment. Like with using crossbows and pikes to counter the warrior aristocracy.

    That eventually erodes their importance in society as a military elite. Knights stop being heavy cavalry or charioteers so much.

    And become administrative officials and select generals with a Civil Administration in a superior position over them.

    The King becomes more and more absolute in Power until he becomes an Emperor.

    While the General never is allowed to remain attached to his military units and gets reassigned constantly.

    Thereby prevent the rise of another warrior aristocratic class that could challenge the King until complete collapse of the bureaucracy.

    Which hasn’t happened in China until perhaps the warlord era.

  34. I’ve really wanted t sink my teeth into Royal Court, but my Crusader Kings comfort zone is in smaller realms, so…haven’t really gotten around to it…
    Maybe I’ll try a Byzantine game, like Devereaux suggested.

    I saw one player review complaining that all they had done was add a lot of busywork and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Yes! That’s the point (but I actually think the busy work is pretty well crafted, all told).

    At the end of the day, all video games are just busywork that some people happen to find fun. I can’t imagine how grinding in an MMO or playing a couple dozen 60-second CS:GO matches in a row can be fun, but clearly a lot of people disagree; MMOs and FPSs just aren’t for me.

    (which typically means [kings] act as the chief judge, chief general and chief priest of a society; those are the three standard roles of kingship which tend to appear, in some form, in nearly all societies with the institution)

    While this is absolutely true of most monarchies I’m familiar with, it doesn’t seem to apply to one version I expect everyone reading this blog to know about—Catholic European monarchies. The royal and ecclesiastical hierarchies weren’t as distinct as some authors make them out to be, but outside the Papal States, the king wasn’t the pope.

    Does anyone who knows what they’re talking about have something interesting to add?

    The simplification is understandable in the context of a game where players probably do not want to actually spend an hour of game time piling through a town charter to try to figure out exactly who does own that field (though several dilemma options allude to having your steward – the financial advisor on your council – do exactly this).

    I am now imagining a medieval Papers, Please sort of game and I am all for it. Probably not in CK3 though,

    [Royal Court represents] a really interesting foundation but would benefit greatly in the long run from culturally-specific or region-specific expansions of the sort that Crusader Kings II got over the years.

    So it’s a good first DLC. (Unless you count the Northern Lords flavor pack, of course. And assuming that Paradox builds on that foundation, on the assumption that a substantial fraction of its playerbase has the DLC and wants to see it built upon…)

    Next week, time permitting, we’re going to look at the ‘runner-up’ topic from the ACOUP Senate vote, examining the Roman office of Dictator…

    …as long as there are no current events demanding the author’s attention, of course.

    1. Holy cow are you GWG from the B12 forums? When I went back to post about some game design stuff I didn’t know you were banned. It has been a while.

      Any thoughts on adding social simulation gameplay to strategy/rpg sims? Like CK games but where characters actually do stuff?

  35. Another game with this sort of thing is Star Dynasties. It’s similar in some ways to Crusader Kings, but (as the name suggests) in a post-collapse sci-fi feudal setting. There’s an honor system, where taking actions perceived as unjust will lower opinions of a character, lessened by having a claim or other justification. Vassals can ask you to punish wrongs against them committed by other characters, and that puts you in a position where one of the two involved are going to be unhappy with you. Other characters can also ask neighboring rulers to avenge YOUR transgressions. It’s a bit bare bones, but the game is only just recently out of early access.

  36. Always love to see some praise for Tyranny. It’s a great game and the decision to make the player character a warrior-judge was a very clever one

  37. Democracies and tribal councils and other forms of consensual governments have vast pools of inherent legitimacy that derives from their government form – of course that can be squandered, but they start ahead on the legitimacy game.

    Been thinking about this, and I’d draw a distinction between the legitimacy of the office and the person. In a democracy, people can be loyal to the office because it’s elected and they generally agree that the elected person should get to rule, but if they think the ruler is bad they’ll get voted out next election or even recalled. Or they’ll hold their office but have their allies lose seats in the legislature. Even if they’re not running, they’ll have a preference for who wins next time.

    So we see legitimacy-building exercises, most clearly in electoral campaigns. I’d directly compare town halls to holding court; the president or individual legislator speaks with the common people, listens to their concerns, and may promise to address them or persuade the people that what they’re already doing is addressing those concerns. The US even has an annual norm of the president gathering together the legislature, the supreme court, and his direct subordinates and giving a speech, generally about his successes last year and his plan to address the concerns of the moment. And outside campaigns, they make an effort to be seen addressing problems and take criticism when they aren’t. They’ll visit the scenes of natural disasters, which as a practical matter is probably unneccessary because the nuts and bolts of handling the disaster will be handled by subordinates and they can get needed information secondhand.

    Plus, there’s usually split powerbases and the ruler would like people to do as he asks outside of his official powers. The US president needs Congress to vote on his bills and approve his budget, and often invests quite a lot of energy in negotiations with legislators. That involves both legitimacy in the eyes of the legislature (I am a wise leader and my ideas are good) and the public (voters support me and will approve of you supporting me).

    The president doesn’t really have the role of chief priest, even informally, but will generally make some showing of piety. Chief general is his explicit role as commander-in-chief and military successes reflect well on them while failures like Afghanistan reflect poorly. For chief judge, there’s a very strong norm against interference in individual cases and actual resolution of cases is up to the courts, but they set law enforcement priorities and get credit or blame for overall crime rates and they’ve got substantial power over the administrative state. They can pardon crimes and often make a show of doing so, and take criticism if they’re seen as using this power unwisely.

    Of course, the details differ. They’re expected to act and dress respectably, but not make too ostentatious of a show of wealth. They are generally (excepting pardons) expected to use their power for classes of people rather than individuals; you might petition for student loans in general to be cancelled but not to cancel yours specifically. Rewarding major supporters, like donors, is common but disfavoured and you don’t see them say “in recognition of their contribution to my campaign I am awarding the next generation fighter contract to Boeing.”

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