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Problem

In my world, the magic system depends on access to a certain type of gem. This gem is plentiful, but only found in a single place, with 6-8 mines. My magic system is totally skewed in favor of the rich as a result. However, this presents us with a problem.

This leaves the artisans, merchants, and lower nobles who can't afford the gems in a poor position. They are high enough to be a major threat, but cannot afford the gems to protect themselves. There is of course, also a problem for rebel groups who may wish again, to protect themselves. There are several uses in public works, government funded projects, and awarded to certain followers of the wealthy.

How might I avoid or fix these problems in my world, whilst still favouring the rich to a significant, but not overpowering degree?


System Limitations

  • The system works on a basis of poetry. The gem doing the magic can be quite small, with smaller gems tending to be more powerful, but less noticeable. This is a fact being quickly forgotten amongst the noble classes.
  • Each vein is quite small and all veins come in different colors, no two the same. Each colour of gem forms a set with one inscribed, and the rest following the instructions on the inscribed stone.
  • If more than one is inscribed, none work
  • Until one of the set in inscribed and the set is working, the gem has the material properties of stained glass. After, it has the properties of diamond mixed with cast iron and graphene.
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    $\begingroup$ this would VERY quickly become monopolized, and then weaponized to confirm the monopoly by fighting off any would be contenders. Therefore: "This leaves the artisans, merchants, and lower nobles who can't afford the gems in a poor position. They are high enough to be a major threat" no, they are no longer a threat $\endgroup$ – ken Dec 5 '18 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ Same reply, That is what I am trying to solve by asking this question. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 5 '18 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ The rich get and stay rich by selling the gems. They keep the good ones, sell off the rest. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Dec 5 '18 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ there is no difference in gem quality. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 5 '18 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ @TanzaniteDragoness Your statement "Smaller gems tending to be more powerful" would contradict that. Quality doesn't just have to relate to appearance. Any sort of measurable difference can be used as a measure for quality. Appearance, Size, power, accuracy and uniformity are some simple examples. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Dec 5 '18 at 3:18
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The crown owns the entire area where the gems are mined and have put in place laws that make it illegal upon the punishment of death for any noble family to own more than a certain number of gems/gem sets. These laws were put in place to prevent the nobility from overthrowing the King via strength of arms (the magic of the gems being considered a military asset). The King is then in a position to dole out the gems in any number of ways to benefit the kingdom or strengthen the position of the king in return.

For example, a trade guild might petition the King to purchase a set number of gems to protect its caravans, or a minor noble might be gifted gems to bribe their family into opposing another of the powerful noble families in support of the king. A commoner could be gifted a gem from the king by doing something notable for the kingdom, showing extreme valor in battle, or winning the annual melee tournament held to placate the masses with bread and circuses.

Alternately, a less wealthy individual could acquire a gem by being a "bought man" for one of the major noble houses. While a few gems can be bought on the black market their prices are astronomical which still precludes a commoner from acquiring one. However, it is a poorly kept secret that the major noble families are willing to support massive loans to individuals wishing to use the power of a gem in return for the promise of favors at a later date.

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The rich can legally buy the gems, since they are rich.

Those who cannot afford to pay on the legal market can make use of illegal means to get the gems: steal them from a bearer, rob the convoy bringing the gems from the caves to the market, access the caves and mine some of the gem, bribe the miners to get some gem under the table.

At the end consider that the guards are not noble, so why should they put a strong effort in protecting those filthy rich nobles?

In this way some gems will reach the non rich, but not in such an amount to really remove the skewing toward the riches.

If you want to use more legal means, the rich can use the gems as barter mean. You know that in the old times most of the rich had to loan money to keep showing off their status. And of course any money loaner would take as warranty only valuable items. What's more valuable than some gems? And if the rich fails to repay the loan, the gems "leak" to the lower classes.

Or the most careless rich can use some small fragment of gem to acquire the sexual favors of attractive poor class woman.

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  • $\begingroup$ I want some way of leagaly balancing my system for those who do have morals. The artisans in particular. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 5 '18 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ @TanzaniteDragoness, that's not in your question, though $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Dec 5 '18 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it is. specifically. If i was unclear I can edit it. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 5 '18 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ The artisans need to have some way to get a small trickle of gems, which will become heirlooms. As the answer suggested, a very few are used to trade for something the rich person desperately wants, or are used as collateral for loans that are not repaid for whatever reason. Some are unethically acquired, but are considered heirlooms after being passed down for a couple of generations (a sufficiently old theft is legitimate ownership). OP needs only a steady trickle. $\endgroup$ – David Thornley Dec 5 '18 at 19:17
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Nobility

A lot of nobles owned a lot of land but they and their offspring (quite often) were very poor at managing money and wasted it like water.

Have the nobility be nobility by owning one of the mines. Now they can't eat the gems or build a house from the gems so at some point, they need to sell some of them to buy castles and banquets. Throw in some wastrel children with gambling debts and drinking problems and more gems enter the market.

Add on top, burglars, criminals and thieving miners as well as children inheriting from their parents, there could still be a ready supply of gems in society.

The rich have an advantage over the poor by selling the worst of the gems and keeping the most powerful for themselves.

Personally I'd have the size of the gem the other way around. The bigger, the more powerful. This way thieves could steal a noble's gems and recut them into smaller weaker stones. Yes they'd be less powerful but impossible to identify if caught.

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  • $\begingroup$ It’s not acctually the size of the gem, it’s the detail of the instructions. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 7 '18 at 0:57
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Guilds

Many games have a similar idea about rare resources; they get around this by having an all-powerful guild in charge of the mines. The guild will allow free trade (even under the table buys) so anybody can get one. So the nobles will mostly likely have first dibs, but anyone who has the cash can get a gem as-well

Rebel controlled mines

When you mentioned rebels that peaked my interest. you can have it that the nation is in a civil war and the rebels have taken control of a mine (or a number of mines) and is ether keeping the gems or selling some to pay for the war effort. Either way a destabilized nation is a corrupt nation; so even if the mines haven’t fallen to the rebels some one that is pro rebel inside the mines will "lose some of the gems if you get what I mean"

Free market

the person that controls the mine dose not have to sell just to the lords (as a have stated in the comments) if by promise or by contract the gem owner cant just sell all the gems to one group there could be laws or simple loyalty to other groups that the owner doesn't want to sell the gems to just one buyer

just a side note why not just have the gems come from a long lost city/catacombs instead of a mine (its weird that a rare resources is only found in one spot with a large supply) so make it a underground city where a magic race once lived (or a high tech city that was lost, could make a cool story) and just make it hard to dig out the under city that's why the gems are so sort after. but that's just me

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  • $\begingroup$ The mines are all very close by, like those yielding tanzanite, and the point is that the others aren’t rich enough to buy them, the others buy up full stock. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 5 '18 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Tanzanite Dragoness that’s why I said have a guild control them at least they could be a neutral power. Let’s say that one lord wants all the germs. The guild can decline selling all of them because they have other buyers they promise to sell their stock too, it’s called free market. It’s like going to a farmer and saying I will buy all your stock from you. Most farmers will say that they can’t sell you all of it because they have promise other buyers the stock (or called loyal buyers). Have that in your story and it will make it easier for you. its how real world markets work as-well $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Dec 5 '18 at 2:10
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Given the military importance of gems, there are two scenarios:

  1. Single entity (guild, noble house, etc.) controls all the mines, and this entity becomes the supreme ruler of the land ("royalty"). You cannot assume that gem miners are some apolitical traders that sell to the highest bidder -- somebody will try to build up their arsenal of gems, and take over the mines. The mining guild would have to maintain its own military, limit sales to friendly buyers, ensure that none of the buyers get too many of them (including via resale). Which is exactly what a king does in a feudal state.

    • Gem guild could sell a small fraction of gems, and use the rest to power its own guards (so they are stronger than any buyer), but eventually somebody in there will want to sell more gems to afford more luxury, to hire mercenaries to take over the guild.
  2. Each noble house controls one mine. Does not matter if they are close, as long as there are clear borders. Houses are of same (or similar) power, and none of them want any other house to gain power (b/c it would enable them to take over). So everybody spies on everybody to ensure there are no alliances or exchanges of gems. This balance of power is fragile, and can be easily upset by some hasty action or intervention of outsiders.

"People who cannot afford a gem" can seek protection in the towns and lands owned by gem-mages.

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  • $\begingroup$ The first one is rather good. $\endgroup$ – Tanzanite Dragoness Dec 5 '18 at 18:37
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A world guild of thiefs. The High nobles want to destroy them but they are too good to hide and survive. Maybe sometimes they can't operate with gems but they survive from regular stealing. Of course the gems are their primary good they sell in the black market. I realise once the buyer they are discovered, it poses a problem, but maybe it's so common that the legal and political system gradually was adapted to tolerate it, imposing a punishement that would depend on the owner's hability to manipulate the legal system.

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