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And to the Republic... Another Look at Darokinby Jennifer Guerra and Ariel Guerra
"Pass me another one, there, Ander, an' none o' that watery stuff ye save fer foreigners, neither!...Aye, thankee kindly. Wishin' I was a foreigner right now, I am. They get treated better in this blasted...What's that? Sorry, sorry...I know ye lost a boy in the Legion durin' the Invasion, Ander, an' I mean him no disrespect. Ahh, I'm just feelin' bitter tonight.
Ye know me sister's boy, Rand? Aye, that's the one - the one with the wife an' kid on the way. Well, he had to appear in court today, an' ye know what happened? They indentured him! An' all fer a fistfight! Blasted sods..."
Darokin, Land of Opportunity: Where anyone, regardless of the circumstances of his birth, can raise himself up by the bootstraps and make himself a success: merchant, diplomat, politician. A republic, where citizens have a voice in government. A society where, although wealth is all-important, everyone is treated with respect; after all, you never know when you're talking to the next millionaire!
The Republic of Darokin ((c)1989, TSR, Inc.) has for years been a favoured Mystaran campaign setting, for DMs and players alike. Opportunities for adventure in the sprawling central Brun nation abound, as do chances to participate in local government and (a main goal of many PCs) to get filthy rich. But Darokin can, however, seem a little too sterile at times, a little too America-meets-Florence. I mean, how many epic heroes were members of the Merchant's Guild?
A closer (and perhaps more cynical) look at the Republic reveals a flip side to the Great Society, a dark and seedy underbelly ripe for the slash of an avenging sword.
A wry assessment of the Darokinian system is the common saying, "He who has the gold makes the rules." In truth, Darokin is not a republic, but a plutocracy, where an ultra-wealthy elite wield immense power. This reality shines through in the common slang, which labels socioeconomic classes as "elite," "gold," "silver," and "copper." While this is a clever reference to the country's emphasis on wealth, it also serves as a somewhat chilling reminder of the ethic behind that obsession. As in coinage, the "Coppers" are of a lesser value than their "betters" in Darokin society.
Every nation has its underprivileged class, some living in worse conditions than others. But Darokin largely denies the existence of this underclass, stating as a society only that those who want out of such a life have "every opportunity" to make themselves a success. While such achievements do happen, the frequency with which Coppers attain such highly touted successes is greatly exaggerated. This is no surprise in and of itself; most nations inflate stories of opportunity for propaganda value. However, Darokin is not a real-life country but a fantasy nation which presents itself as a benign campaign setting with no major societal flaws. Its underlying hypocrisies, such as the abuse of the underclass, thus make for an interesting D&D campaign.
..."'Nother round for my good friend Hrothgar, wench!...Mmmm, you single, honey?...Whassat'?...Ow! Hey! How was I supposed t'know she's yer wife?"...
Everyone is familiar with the stereotype of the hard-working, hard-drinking labourer. Adventurers typically also fall into this category, by actions if not by economics. What adventurer has not had a few too many in the local tavern, only to get into a bar-smashing brawl that results in a night of lodging courtesy of the local guard station?
This is not an atypical scenario in itself, even for the common man. However, what if someone were out to...exercise the laws of the Republic to his advantage; what harm could he possibly wreak over a simple bar brawl?
Say that Lorak the Loud gets walloped with an empty tankard for his flirting with the tavern wench above. A famous adventurer, Lorak cannot possibly allow such a slight to go unavenged (even if he did bring it upon himself), and so he challenges the enraged husband to "take it outside." No sooner do the drunken men step out into the street than does Lorak punch the husband in the face, knocking him unconscious. Unfortunately, a town guard on patrol witnesses this, and Lorak is arrested, charged with public intoxication, disturbing the peace, and simple assault. It is soon discovered that the man's nose is broken; the simple assault charge is raised to one of serious assault (a charge levied for assault resulting in broken bones). Lorak is facing a heavy fine (totalling some 5,080 daros), if not jail time.
Not a problem, you say; Lorak is a mighty adventurer and mercenary. That's pocket change! And a little "greasing of palms" should take care of the jail time. True, but what if Lorak were not an adventurer? What if he were a common man of Darokin, who got misguidedly involved in a drunken brawl (as, no doubt, some of our readers recall doing during late adolescence)?
According to Darokinian law, "if the fine assessed a criminal is greater than he can pay, the criminal becomes indentured" (Gaz11, page 18). Five thousand daros is a ludicrously high amount for a common labourer; next to no commoner would be able to pay that fine. (Of course, the amount of the fine is of no consequence to those of the upper classes.) The horror facing the common citizen of the Republic dawns: one could potentially be enslaved (er, indentured) for a fistfight gone wrong!
Now, this does not mean (of course) that everyone who commits a minor crime in Darokin ends up indentured. However, we propose - for the sake of an interesting campaign - that a good number of such cases actually do result in indenture, particularly those involving muscular, able-bodied men (or women). A criminal unable to pay their fine is indentured to the state (or the local government, who then sells its indentureds to brokers. Brokers then put the indentureds to work in local industries. This "convict labour" may be "looked down upon" by the middle classes, but it makes a great deal of money for not only the brokers, but for those businessmen who employ the indentureds. And, given that in Darokin the largest industrialists and landowners are those of the Elite class, we dare say that (with such patrons) indentured servitude is going nowhere in the Republic anytime soon. It is a system which invites corruption and abuse, but it is a system which makes money. In Darokin, the moral value of a venture is often determined by its ability to turn a profit.
Where does this fit in a Darokin-based campaign? Perhaps the heroes visit a friend in Darokin, only to learn from his father that he has been indentured for not being able to pay the fine on a petty charge. When they locate the young man, he is about to be executed for attempted escape - what do the characters do? Or perhaps the PCs are hired (by an outside interest) to investigate possible corruption in the judicial system; raids on taverns in low-income areas have netted a number of people who cannot pay even small fines for public intoxication or disturbing the peace. The PCs find that the indentureds are being bought en masse by large combine farms in the central part of the country - farms which are owned by a large Merchant family. How can they stop the abuse when the ring of corruption goes straight to the top? And are outside organisations (such as the Iron Ring) getting involved? Only you, the DM, know the truth!
And so you see how, by adding a darker, seedier layer to the fair Republic of Darokin, that country can become not only a symbol of prosperity and advancement among the nations of the Known World, but also a seething nest of veritable slavers, twisting laws with regressive fines as a means to an end.
It seems that you don't have to be a Merchant to be a hero here, after all.