Mordheim, A House Divided
Another update from the meta-setting today, Mordheim was named on the fly, and invented from whole cloth when someone asked about one of Graceterre’s neighbors. It also has a lot of common fantasy tropes, but I like the amount of depth its acquired over the years, and it’s been an interesting setting for exploring class differences and ideas of noblesse oblige, as well as having a chivalric knighthood feel.
Mordheim in a nutshell:
Imagine a really militant Germany after the collapse of an empire like Charlemagne’s, with his relatives squabbling over the remains of the country. Now mix that with a taste of feudal France during the reign of one of their particularly tyrannical kings, pick a Louis, any Louis, and add in the incredibly debauched and jaded nature of the Russian aristocracy under the Czar, maybe a hundred years before the cultural revolution. If you can do that, you’ll get a pretty good picture.
The country of Mordheim is in actuality a collection of a half a dozen patriarchies, close relatives all vying for a single throne, locked in what seems to be an endless civil war. Each Patriarch believes his own castle to be the original capital of the once united country, and would rightfully deny all evidence to the contrary as scheming by one or another Patriarch to swing the balance of history in their favour. The land of Mordheim is a complicated mix of wealth and squalor, war and honor, and all things in between.
Essentially, the land of each Great House is its own small tyranny, with the proceeds of all work ultimately going toward furthering the head of the Great House’s claim to the throne, as it were. Quintessentially feudal in nature, all the baronies of Mordheim share certain political similarities. They all keep serfs, peasants who belong to the land, rather than to the landowners, some of whom have family lines stretching back dozens of generations, and who have watched their land change hands sometimes eight times a year. It’s an unwritten rule in Mordheim warfare that the serfs will remain relatively unmolested in any conflictas the land itself would be useless without them. The serfs themselves observe this as the magnanimity of their lords, who rule by divine right.
There are two escapes from serfhood, dangerous paths both, one for men and one for women. For men, it’s easy enough to join the army and become a soldier. A soldier’s life belongs to his lord, although they’ve been known to change sides after a surrender. As a soldier, it’s possible to acquire a small title, such as squire, and a small amount of land and serfs with it. The title cannot be passed on through family lines, and upon the squire’s death, the land reverts back to the crown, whomever’s crown it happens to be at the time. For a woman, the escape involves catching the eye of a squire or knight, a difficult task to do when one works in the fields all day. It’s an even more difficult task to be accepted as a wife, rather than a peasant mistress, though even those can earn a few luxuries.
The aristocracy of Mordheim is rife with second rate nobility and somewhat wealthy hangers on, nights of revelry mixed with days of warfare, with a certain requirement among the hangers on and lesser family to support the party line. Those with the advantage of birth can be sure to enjoy it to the fullest, becoming scholars and warriors, mages and priests, things the lower classes can only dream about.
Gender equality in Mordheim is almost a laughable idea. Sternly patriarchal in all respects, women occupy a strange and yet strong role in their society. An unmarried woman is essentially dead weight to the upper classes, given the dowry that must be bestowed on any potential husband, although many a House has ransomed prisoners in exchange for a daughter’s hand. Once married, the expectations on a wife are heavy. It is the wife who must manage affairs that do not pertain to war, the wife who will be nearest the Patriarch at court, while her husband is in the field, and she must be seen appropriately. Women are equaly spoiled and oppressed at the same time. There are things that women simply do not do, such as raise a sword. The dagger is the weapon of the woman, to be used for self-defense against kidnappers from another House. The exact strictures placed upon women vary from House to House, however.
Mordheim religion is closely tied with the politics, as it is in most countries. The principle god is Siegfried, the King of the Heavens, first king of Mordheim. Needless to say, the head of each Great House claims a direct line from Siegfried. The stories say that Siegfried ruled over a vast empire, bound only by the endless waters of the oceans. Accounts differ as to how the empire ended, but in all of them Siegfried takes his place where he belongs, among the gods. He’s worshipped in three major aspects, and several minor ones, the faith organizing itself in chapels according to the Patriarch’s wishes. The first and most prominent aspect is Siegfried the Monarch, who rules over all with an even hand, meting out justice with an even hand. No less prestigious is Siegfried the Warrior, who promotes steadfastness on the field of honor, and whose priests urge soldiers to do whatever it takes to achieve victory. Somewhat tertiary is Siegfried’s Guardian aspect, who keeps not only the laws of man, but the laws of nature. It is only though his will that they remain constant, and only through his god graces can they be occasionally circumvented. Siegfried has other aspects, such as the Avenger and the Father, but worship of the first three is more common.
It would seem, quite correctly so, that religion in Mordheim is for the upper class, and even then only for the men of the upper class. Siegfried is a patriarchal god, and his people model themselves after that. It is unseemly for a woman to pray for herself, it’s considered selfish. However, many groups of women will make offerings to Siegfried, asking them to protect the lives of their menfolk in battle. After all, a woman cannot own property, and thus a widow would be destitute.
The priests of Siegfried come from all walks of the aristocracy, varying as much as the aspects of their god. Warrior priests will march with armies, while Guardian priests will sit in contemplation, and Monarch priests administer over the serfs, addressing grievances and sometimes acting on their behalf, according to convention. They are a protected class of citizen, and a priest captured in battle will have his arms returned to him and be released immediately, for it’s blasphemous to attempt to chain the servants of Siegfried.
The history of Mordheim is quite muddled, due to the long term effects of six families each trying to affirm their own deeds and claim to the throne, while denying all the others. Each Great House keeps their own records, recalling battles fought and events that have occurred. The two most memorable events in the last three centuries have been the Orc War when, approximately two centuries ago, the Great Houses of Mordheim banded together with the armies of Reme and Graceterre to destroy the gathered army of orcs in a mostly successful attempt to wipe that race out of existence. As well, the Houses joined forces once more merely a few generations ago to repel the forces of the expansive empire of Reme once and for all. Reme learned a valuable lesson from its foray into Mordheim, and has since found other directions to expand. Both of these defenses were obviously organized by the then-Patriarch of whichever Great House whose history one happens to be reading. Needless to say, through centuries of propaganda, the real history of Mordheim is somewhat of a mystery.
Mordheim at War:
Mordheim is always at war. It has been for as long as anyone can remember, ever since the end of teh empire of Siegfried, each Great House fighting to claim the whole of its ancestral home, seemingly unable to achieve even that first step in restoring the ancient empire, bogged down by the avarice of usurpers. The tactics of each Great House don’t differ very much, favouring the direct approach, using shield walls and heavily armored cavalry charges on the field of honor.
Quarter is often asked, and usually given. A display of mercy can sway the sympathies of an ill-disposed House, and the ransom for noble prisoners is always welcome. Captured infantry are usually recruited into the ranks of the victor’s army, and sent to fight on the front lines once again, perhaps against their friends and brothers. The thought of this sometimes spurs units of soldiers to fight to the death in the service of their current lord, for Siegfried rewards all those who die in battle somehow, regardless of rank. And for the formerly serf soldiers, it’s not simply their lord that they fight for, but the ability to see their familes, the very land they walk on. That mixes to form a strange brand of nationalism and fervor.
Magic in Mordheim:
Magic exists in Mordheim as it exists everywhere. Aristocrats, if they have the knack and the time, can study hard and become wizards or bards, sometimes leaving the country to be educated in the colleges of Graceterre. Druidic herbmen and herbwomen live among the serfs, doing their best to ease their lives and heal a land wounded by centuries of warfare. Clerics cast great spells to aid armies and deter enemies, although both wizards and clerics often limit themselves to the less destructive spells, given the fact that conquering a rich and fertile land is much more appealing than conquering a heath where the crops have been blasted to dust by the combined arcane might of several dozen wizards. Magic has a dark side however, and that dark side is witches. Witches manifest what appears to be wizardy, but they use no books, have no learning. That is because their powers are darkness manifest, fueled by the rape of the spirits of those around them. It is a solemn duty of the wizards of Mordheim to root out witches, wherever they may be found, and destroy them.
Great Houses of Mordheim:
The Great Houses of Mordheim are, in no particular order, Richtofen, Bismarck, Königschofen, Vaatz, Wiegel, and Faust. The Patriarchs of these houses each carry the direct bloodline of Siegfried, or at least one of them does. Incidentally, the Ravensburgs are a cadet family of House Wiegel, and the Sieglinde are a cadet family of House Bismarck.
Wiegel: The northwestern Landschaft is controlled by the House Wiegel, led by the Fürst von Wiegel, Friedrich Wiegel II. His army is led by the Lord Marshal, Dietrich Hartmann, a savage warrior who climbed his way up from the lowest ranks of the Wiegelwehr. The Fürst von Wiegel makes his home in the fortress-monastery of Canth Keep, a remnant from the ancient empire. The Chaunticleers of Canth Keep maintain the archives and for some it’s considered the religious centre of the old empire. The Wiegels, connected as they are with the southern end of Stahlrim, maintain the only line of trade and shipping from the north, importing Stahlrim steel to compete with that of the Richtofen to the south of them.
Richtofen: Too humble to grant himself the title of Fürst, the Lord Baron Gerhard Emil von Richtofen rules the western portion of what remains of Siegfried’s empire. His son, Emil von Richtofen, leads the lancers of the Richtwehr. The Barony von Richtofen maintains the only mines in Mordheim, and employs the finest smiths to forge the weapons and armor of the Richtwehr. It’s not uncommon to see a peace or ransom offering from House Richtofen to include some of their weapons.
Vaatz: Hauptfürst Ludwig Vaatz controls the largest Landschaft in Mordheim, directly east of the lands of the Richtofen, resting on most of the Arkonian border. The Vaatz capitol rests in Partisan Hold, one of the fortresses of Siegfried’s eldest son, Gustav Vaatz. The Vaatz maintain close ties with the local Arkonian mages, involved in a constant magical arms race with the Faust, the house immediately to the south.
Königschofen: Crammed into the northeast corner of Mordheim, Niederkönig Hannes Königschofen has the weakest land forces in Mordheim, but makes up for it with the strength of his navy. Often employing foreign mercenaries, the House Königschofen maintains strong ties with House Wiegel in an attempt to balance out their navy with borrowed Wiegel levies.
Faust: Johannes Faust claims no title beyond that of being the Patriarch of House Faust, with its unbroken line to Siegfried himself. The Fausts reside south of the Landschaft of House Vaatz, in the smallest Landschaft, north of Reme and along a small stretch of the Arkonian border. Their relations with the neighboring nation of Arkonia are somewhat strained however, because they’ve inherited a relic of the empire’s past, the Eidolon Zodiac of Siegfried’s Lord Magus and Sorcerer Supreme, Itxal. Faustian mages work day and night to unlock the secrets, determined to keep the secrets from all foreigners, be they Arkonian, Reman, or Laputan.
Bismarck: House Bismarck boasts that it’s the strongest House, especially after its quick recovery from the Reman incursion fifty years ago. They learned a lot from the Remans though, and now possess the strongest infantry force of all the Landschaft. Otto von Bismarck and his Warrior Prime, Conrad Ohnesorge, command a formidable force, often armed with Richtofen steel.