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My world is ruled by vampire-like superhumans, who have supernatural abilities like prescience and telepathy. The vampires require human blood to sustain their powers and long life. They lord over and enslave humanity, who views them as close to gods. Humans are considered as almost like pets or cattle. They're allowed to live in their villages, but must pay tribute to their vampire overseer in blood, and they often work in the vampire's castles and homes as slaves and blood donors.

I want my world to have 'great houses' or family clans of these vampires and a vampire monarch, whose bloodline has been on the throne for hundreds of years. However, I want my society's system to stand out a little from the typical medieval feudal system you see in so many fantasy stories. I want to do something a lil different!

Are there any alternatives to the typical feudal system that will still keep the idea of houses or clans with an overruling monarch figure?

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    $\begingroup$ You are asking two different questions here. Please ask only 1, as explained in our help center $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 10 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ And don't forget that interesting is a matter of personal taste. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 10 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ I've fixed it to just one question and altered the title, I hope that fixes everything! $\endgroup$
    – bruithel
    Apr 10 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you mean by feudalism with relating to houses. The concept of houses and clans aren't tied to feudalism. You can have houses/clans now in modern day capitalism. Feudalism is just a system of government but houses and clans can exist outside of it. The main idea of the house/clan system is familial but it could equivalent to a group/cabal/cult/conglomorate/corporation/sect/society/social-club/crew/party/gang/faction/union/clique $\endgroup$
    – HSharp
    Apr 10 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @HSharp my understanding of the feudal system is definitely limited, I apologise. What I mean is a family/house/clan given land by a reigning monarch or ruling land on behalf of the monarch. I'm looking for ways that a monarch can still have an overarching rule over a kingdom, while houses still hold land. $\endgroup$
    – bruithel
    Apr 10 at 10:16

6 Answers 6

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I do not have a perfect answer, but questions that might lead you to an answer:

  • how are your vampires created? Do they breed naturally? Infect humans? Breed naturally but can crossbreed with humans? If vampires are created not born, then this will be extremely different from feudalism, since vamp "houses" would not be families but adoptive nepotist meritocracies. This alone overturns most "fantasy feudalism" tropes. If vampires breed but are incompatible with humans, then this is less feudalism and more like a farmer-lifestock relationship, or master-slave. If they CAN breed with humans, why is your society not overrun with halfbreeds?
  • Are vampires immortal, or at least significantly longer lived than humans? If so, this is not feudalism either: there is no plausible way for younger vampires to achieve power, because their parents and elders do not die. The only way for them to achieve anything is either a bloody coup against elders, or expanding away from the center of the vampiric empire, to find new land and new slaves.
  • how much blood do vampires need? If vamps drain their slaves every night, they will simply destroy their own peasantry quickly. This is not sustainable, unless the vampire population is very, very small, and they constantly conquer more land. This would make the vampiric empire act more like the Roman Empire, not a medieval, feudal state.
  • splitting your society into two classes: Vampire lords and human serfs is extremely bad for the economy, and would prevent sensible feudalism. Since, over time, vampires get richer, and slaves poorer and more numerous, this would quickly collapse the economy, making it impossible for the vamps to maintain military. This is how our Western Roman Empire collapsed. You need some robust "middle class" of either half-vampires, or free humans who can gain wealth and power to maintain the economy, engage in complex crafts, trade, seafaring, transport, accounting, bureaucracy etc. This middle class must necessarily outnumber the vampires by a significant factor to make it financially plausible.
  • you mention prescience as one of the vampire powers. In general, prescience tends to destroy plots, because it makes all kinds of protagonist/antagonist actions predetermined and pointless. However, if you allow for a very limited and flawed version of prescience, then you remove the military concept of fog of war, as well as economic uncertainty, to the point that feudal structure is not necessary. A prescient vampire does not need a feudal structure to control the serfs. Nor does it need conscripted feudal armies to fight and maintain peace. it does not even need feudal lords and barons to maintain the economy: it can presciently sell their own products at perfect market price. Prescience means perfect efficiency, which makes 99% of feudalism pointless. So instead of a whole feudal system of vampire kings, lords, barons and knights, you have prescient vampire stock merchants who constantly haggle to sell high and buy low, and send assassins against each other in a complicated game of prescient chess.
  • what the vampires even need money/wealth/land for? Sure, they need blood. And they need some slaves to do their bidding. But why would they maintain entire baronies, viscounties, or kingdoms for? Human nobles needed that to generate wealth through the sale of grain, and they wanted wealth to surround themselves with opulent comfort. But magical vampire wizards can do 99% of that through blood magic. They could very well leave the humans to their own devices, and even let humans have their own "kings" and feudal systems, while vampires only puppeteer them from the shadows and sip their blood. There is no obvious benefit for the vampires to do the actual lordly work themselves or have direct vassals.

Overall, the system you are trying to create is not different from Vampire: the Masquerade, or Vampire: The Dark Ages. In both systems, vampires let humans do their thing, and only leech off of them, there is little point in direct, godlike feudalism, and the few vampires that tried that get outcompeted by more sensible ones.

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  • $\begingroup$ "what the vampires even need money/wealth/land for?" The OG vampires could be the OG kings turned vampire and they kinda just kept rolling with that. $\endgroup$
    – Martijn
    Apr 11 at 11:15
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Make it more similar to the actual medieval system

When anybody who knows even a little bit of how the western European medieval society actually worked watches something like HBO's Game of Thrones, or reads George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire on which the TV series was notionally based, they watch the show mostly for T&A mindless entertainment, because the dysfunctional society depicted in the show is very unlike the viciously dark, gloriously intricate, ever shifting, and yet fully functional medieval society.

Therefore, what I suggest to do if one really wants to make their society's system stand out from the typical medieval feudal system as seen in so many fantasy stories is to make more similar to the real western European medieval society.

Because, in the real western European society:

  • First of all, the concept of "ruling houses" was very much less well-defined than in stereotypical fiction. Everybody who was somebody was in some way related, by blood, by marriage, or both, to everybody else who also was somebody.

    There were no such clear cuts as between the Targaryens and the Starks. Anybody who was in a real position of power was a bit Targaryen, and a bit Stark, and a bit something else, and a bit something else again. All the really powerful families were interrelated, and they had intermarried for centuries.

    For example:

    • Edward II the King of England married Isabella the daughter of the King of France. Their son Edward III was therefore half Plantagenet and half Capet, and was therefore a perfectly natural pretender to the throne of France when Queen Isabella's brother Charles IV died without a male heir.

      And as a result England and France went to war for a Hundred Years.

      Eventually, the English lost despite having won the Three Glorious Victories of Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415).

    • This state of things persistent among the high aristocracy right up to the final dissolution of the aristocractic power in the 20th century. In the First World War, the sovereigns of Enland, Germany, and Russia were related in multiple ways and before the war addressed each other as "cousin".

    • Somebody who is at least partially outside this web of relations will stand out. For example, one of the remarkable things about William the Bastard was that he was a, well, bastard, the son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and his proud concubine Arlette, the daughter of a tanner. This did not stop him from becoming King of England, but it did provide him with an excellent pretext for dismissing any subordination to the King of France.

  • Second, alliances and loyalties were much more fleeting than in stereotypical fiction. Wives and sons deposed their husbands and mothers and started civil wars against them. Great noblemen routinely switched allegiance from one overlord to another, and back, and again, in order to preserve or to increase their own power. Cities did not even pretend to have any kind of long-term subordination to any specific crown; whoever was the last conqueror, he was the overlord.

  • Lawyers were extremely important. This is one of my strongest pet peeves with regard to stereotypical fantasy fiction. Where are all the lawyers, where are all the lawsuits? Someone stakes his claim to the throne and poof! noble houses declare for or against and that's it? Oh no!

    Perhaps the best example is the succession crisis which followed the death of King Louis X of France in 1316 without a male heir. This had never happened before in France, and Philip, Count of Poitiers, who was acting as regent for the prospective Queen Joan, the only surviving child of the deceased King, assembled an unstoppable force of prelates and doctors at law who unearthed the 800 years old (yes!) Salic Law to reach the conclusion that women did not succeed in the kingdom of France. Philip was duly crowned King Philip V of France.

    His legal trick came to reveal the power of karma when he died without a heir and was succeeded by his brother Charles, who died leaving only a daughter. The closest male relative was the son of Charles's sister Isabella, who was Queen of England. A new legal assembly had to be summoned in haste, to declare that women not only could not inherit the French crown, but they also could not transmit the right to the crown. Naturally, England disagreed with this outrageously sexist interpretation.

  • Great mercantile houses were as important as great noble houses, albeit important in a different way. All those splendid tournaments, all those lofty castles, all those glorious wars consumed a lot of money. Where did the money come from? When I see a show or read a book where Kings and Queens and Noblemen consume an awful lot of resources without any apparent source of income I feel that the authors somehow believe that Kings and Queens and Noblemen being rich is just a plain law of nature. In reality, the Golden Rule applied: he who has the gold makes the rules. The tension between the social power of the nobility and the economic power of the mercantile class deserves to be highlighted.

    Perhaps the best example is the Hanseatic League, which at its highest point in the 15th century behaved almost as a sovereign state in its own right, complete with wars and diplomatic recognition.

    Even today, the official names of Bremen and Hamburg, the last great city-states of Europe, are respectively the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen and the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

  • The thing is that by removing all the lawyers and all the merchants, the stereotypical fantasy fiction works are forced to also leave out most of the complicated and intricate machinations, plots and counterplots which were in reality a very important aspect of the medieval world. While watching the Game of Thrones series I could not stop thinking how linear it all was. (Linear, that is, until the last season, when the series turned into an adaptation of a chaotic Russian novel populated by insane characters.)

  • And finally, religion was a really complicated thing. There were popes and antipopes supported by warring factions of clerics and secular rulers. (The best example is the so-called Western Schism which endured from 1378 to 1417, when "bishops residing in Rome and Avignon both claimed to be the true pope, and were joined by a third line of Pisan claimants in 1409" (to use the concise summary of Wikipedia.) There were devastating wars of religion. There were exquisite public disputations about matters of doctrine. There were secular rulers who rebelled against the power of the Church, with varying degrees of success. Popes excommunicated bishops, and later accepted them back, and so on.

    For example, Emperor Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire (which had nothing to do with the real Roman Empire) was excommunicated five times by three different popes. (He died of perfectly natural causes after winning a glorious victory in a civil war against his own son.)

For a gentle¹ and entertaining introduction to the world of the western European High Middle Ages, read Maurice Druon's wonderful series The Accursed Kings (7 books, 1955 to 1977), or try to find and watch any of the two TV adaptations; in my opinion the six-episode 1972 variant is clearly better, but the five-episode 2005 variant is also quite serviceable. The books do have an English translation by Humphrey Hare, available from the usual places. Even George R. R. Martin called The Accursed Kings "the original game of thrones"...

¹) Well, gentle if we exclude all the assassinations, poisonings, tortures, gruesome executions, war-related violence, mind-bogglingly complicated plots and counter-plots, casual treachery, and of course the overdose of plain evil.

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    $\begingroup$ "Naturally, England disagreed with this outrageously sexist interpretation." - note, dear reader, that there is a sarcasm tag here that you might have overlooked. Check again - yes, England would benefit if this interpretation did not apply. That's the reason they disagreed, not the sexism ;) $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Apr 11 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the Hanseatic League, note that their influence and name also remains today in the form of Lufthansa ("Air Hansa"). $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl-FredrikNybergBrodda: That's a purely invented name, created by keen marketeers in 1926 for the company resulting from the merger of Deutsche Luft-Reederei and Junkers Luftverkehr. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 11 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP All names are invented! The fact that they chose that name shows it still had weight. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ Spoiler alerts: So you don't ruin the end of that history textbook someone's been meaning to read :D $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 11 at 13:15
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Characteristics of Feudal Society

From what I understand, the typical medieval-like fantasy has several characteristics:

  • king / emperor at the top, bloodline. Earned through conquest or marriage, most often legitimized by religious leadership
  • hierarchy of nobles: Every noble is responsible for managing the nobles in the hierarchy beneath them. Nobility is heredetary, can be given by king/emperor
  • common folk: separated into a comparably small 'middle class' who lives in one of the fortified towns and has some rights and privileges (see also Wikipedia: Citizenship), and the 'peasants' (farmers who work the land and make sure everyone has food on the table via selling their stuff in markets and paying their taxes to whoever owns the land they are working)
  • guilds: (professional) associations of merchants or artisans. Sets standards for the trade, helps and regulates their members and their craft
  • religion: the religion of the king is the religion of the people. Mandatory. Religious hierarchy also has a good deal of political power (and land ownership). The people are deeply religious, and since the king/emperor is god-given (by God's grace) they are practically sacrosanct. Priests, Monks, and other clerical positions are revered.
  • education: Primarily only for nobility and clergy. Citizens have some, but peasants are mostly illiterate
  • military: Few standing troops, drafted largely from peasants / common folk whenever necessary
  • emancipation: woman has basically no rights on her own, only as wife of so-and-so

Houses and Clans are mostly part of nobility or the middle-class.


Ancient Rome

This is a very simplistic model cherry-picked from millennia of Roman rule that went from a republic to an empire. For more accuracy see Wikipedia.

  • king / emperor: originally elected from nobility, later on also heredetary
  • Nobility: Consuls (= rulers of city-states or larger regions), any citizen (patrician or plebian) who has a Consul ancestor.
  • Senate: made up of citizens to help rule a city. Discusses laws, etc.
  • Citizen: people of the country who have rights and duties before the Roman law. Pay taxes, vote, form society, etc.
  • patrician: citizen where one of their ancestors is one of the city founding patriarchs
  • plebian: citizen, but ancestor is not a founding patriarch
  • Slaves: owned by citizens, do all the manual labor, no rights, but also no taxes. Can become Freed Men (= Citizen Lite(TM)) under certain circumstances
  • religion: up to the individual
  • Military: highly trained professional army
  • emancipation: some rights, but not as many as men

Have your houses / clans be Patricians, vampire = citizen, slave = human, and you have a pretty different model. Vampires own human slaves, who both do all the farming to feed themselves, but also provide raw materials (mining, logging, etc.) for crafts. Crafts either performed by humans (low level, like every-day tools) or vampires (high level, like glass blowing or artwork)


Ancient Egypt

Once again, some cherry-picking from thousands of year of history (more accuracy in Wikipedia article)

  • Pharaoh: Divine ruler, a God made flesh, hereditary
  • Temples: Take care of finances, collecting taxes, storing grain for bad years, place of education and worship
  • Nobility: Regions are ruled by a vizir-like position
  • Artisans, craftsmen, scribes: Skilled workers, high reputation, but still under state control. Paid by the temples for their work
  • Farmers: their produce is owned by the noble whose land they tend to, can be drafted for construction work, digging irrigation trenches, etc.
  • Indentured Servants: can sell their works to hopefully reach feed status some day
  • Religion: indistinguishable from the state
  • emancipation: men and women equal rights

Houses and Clans = temples / nobility, vampires = nobility + clergy + high-level craftsmen, humans = farmers + indentured servants + low-level craftsmen. Might be interesting to have the feature that even the lowliest peasant (=human) is allowed to petition the vizir (=high-ranking vampire) if there is an issue.

--

Other interesting societies

Other examples you can take inspiration from:

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What's a "house"

In a sense you've already locked yourself into the common fantasy trope because you're holding on to the fundamental idea that has driven all but the earliest vampire stories: the idea that each group shares a common ancestor (for whatever reason). But, let's set that aside.

Traditional: My house is what I bite

I liked @GoingDurden's answer and upvoted it. To borrow briefly from it, how your vampires propagate defines one aspect of "houses." For instance, the traditional "if A bites B, B is beholden to A. If B bites C, C is beholden to B and A" kind of propagation such that if you kill "A" everyone in the tree dies. Thus, we have the "House of A."

Traditional: It's my family's business

Next is the idea that some vampire family has built up an enterprise that is honored (or, at least, recognized) by all other vampires. Vampire A discovers that (and I'm being silly) after so many centuries Jamaican blood tastes somewhat like Rum and, given the low population, that's an uncommon delicacy. Vampire A started the business by carefully cultivating grades of blood donors and breeding them for quantity while controlling the supply. Vampire A became whomping wealthy and enjoyed the power and privilege that brought to he/she/it. Vampire A's family (however they came to pass) has since inherited the business and uses it to leverage a criminal empire politics around the world. Thus, we have the "House of A."

Less Traditional: corporate overlord

Do you remember that Jamaican Rum hemaperitif? Rather than leaving it for his/her/its good-for-nothing once-bitten-forever-regretted progeny, vampire A decided to take the company public! Now it's run by a board of directors (all vampires, of course) and the word "house," while still referring to vampire A, has the more modern context of a brand.

Possibly not traditional at all: the gang of thugs

All those vampires aren't nearly as well organized as one might think. In fact, blood is a limited resource because it too easy to create new vampires — especially when the bound minions you bite are needed to constantly fight off the ravenous hordes of your neighboring house who want your humans as their own! While we'd more commonly refer to these structures as tribes or gangs, those well-dressed and overly formal vampires just can't stand not presenting themselves with the highest vanity possible. Thus, "House of A" refers to the loosely organized gang of vampires trying to protect their precious food source from everybody else.


Hello Bruithel! I've thrown some ideas out to you. Please be aware that at this time questions like these are technically off-topic for being too story-based or open-ended brainstorming (check out the first two bullets of the Help Center for details). As a new user we're lenient! But at this time this site is specifically focused on building worlds (the infrastructure upon which stories are written)... but not stories. The distinction is painful, which is why we're having a discussion about that along with a number of other things that you and others might be interested in. Cheers!

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Base it off of the Early Roman Senate.

Your empire could be made up of many vampire clans, each ruling over whatever they own. This ownership does not have to be strictly territorial either. One Vampire clan might own a town or two. One might own a major shipping company. One might own all the brothels on the West Coast. The point is that each clan is ruled by a Patriarch who demonstrates enough economic and/or military power to be admitted into the Senatorial class.

As for the Empire level leadership, each clan elects one representative: typically the Patriarch, heir apparent, or a respected elder to go to the empire's capital every once in a while where they form the Senate. The Senate discusses rules and taxes and appoints people to special positions of power like Consuls, Praetors, Censors, and Tribunes. When they are done with a session, those who have not been appointed to a special office return home until the next session.

So instead of having many layers of hierarchical lords, there is just one big assembly of clan representatives who are all theoretically equals, and they vote for vampires to occupy any supreme positions that are needed between assemblies.

Where the Great Clans come from

Due to civil wars, unpaid debts, etc. Some clans can split and merge over time. So, if house Farnese were to owe an unrepayable debt to or be conquered by house Borghese, then all of house Farnese could become house Borghese's slaves which would effectively give house Borghese 2 seats in the Senate. Over time these mergers could result in a single Patriarch being represented by 10 or even 20 Senators giving him significant political power over lesser Patriarchs without actually creating a formal hierarchy.

As the Empire grows, some clans will die off completely removing thier seat from the Senate, and old clans could schism or new clans be accepted into the Senatorial class allowing the number of total Senate seats to be maintained.

What if your Empire gets Really Big?

Your Empire can have an infinite number of Patricians, each with his own clan, but only those admitted into the Senatorial Class by the current Censor get to be represented. Because old clans die out and power and influence makes it possible to ascend into the Senatorial Clans, your 100 or so senatorial clans could exert control over 1000s of other clans by pitting them against each other to rise in power and demonstrated loyalty in hopes of being accepted into the Senate as new seats open up. Or you can create lesser Civil Service types of leadership that they can participate in society at a meaningful level, even if the Senate is off limits to them like tax collectors, judges, military officers, etc. This way, they still feel included and more important than the common rabel, so they don't feel the need to rise up to have influence.

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Introducing - the scenario-tree or hydrasil (tree of all possible worlds). You are at the root- at the now, from here groweth the branches - each is the acquiring or loosing of a ability. Where each branch ends, there is a new now. From that now, the old branches unexplored grow, but with changed probabilities to the outcomes. The higher you go, the riskier the world becomes. Somebody prescient enough, can see the nukes & spaceships at the top of the tree - and can also see the increasing likelihoods of plague and disaster, that bring you back to the roots, or even worse, make the traversal of branches way harder in the future, walling you in and off.

Some spend aeons, hardening the root, so whenever a scenario-tree falls, it can make a sound, as there are still people around. Thus there is the vampire-order of underground fortresses, seed-banks and canned food. They are "harmless" and in no-ones way, and increase the odds for everybody. Everyone likes allies, are the social infrastructure of your world.

The warring houses of your world, are - different scenarios and worlds, the vampires work towards. Antagonistic to one another, as the technologies they want to discover and the lifes they want to see lived, might kill part of another tree- or increase the risks - e.g. like the black plague astronomically - due to trade routes being microbe vectors. Now go, and stab that da Vinci guy, no, da gama, vasco da gama, damn he is gone.

As the view on the tree and the dream of the future, varies from person to person, one can only find one house, by learning ones expectations and thinking about the futures, one wants to be part.

Normal humans can't do it. They already get panic attacks, when two futures, two plans, two leaders are evaluated- civil war, infighting of brother vs brother, all those life lost due to intense knife debate. They get a show of the "trunk" & roots by leaders with "one plan" now and then.

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