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The Political History of Thunder Rift, and the Town of Melinir

by Chris Seabrook

The possible development of Melinir as a town:

While developing Melinir, and retouching some old building maps (Some Places Around Thunder Rift) I began to think about Melinir as a town, and I decided that it must be a “free-city” with several groups wrestling for control of it. There would be the citizen body, the guilds, the mayor, the temple, the town guard/ town watch, the remnants of the aristocracy attempting to regain their control and power (notably the Black Knight), and the merchants, thieves and thugs (Maybrush, Zanzer, and Black Thomas).
Melinir is uncommon for a fantasy medieval/ renaissance town, in that it is only a small town, but has no obvious feudal lord.

Before I go any further:

Here is the list of printed works consulted:
- Beach, Tim. Assult on Raven's Ruin. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1992. Print.
- Connors, William W. Quest for the Silver Sword. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1992. Print.
- Haring, Scott, and William W. Connors. The Republic of Darokin: Gazetteer : Dungeons & Dragons Official Game Accessory. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1989. Print.
- Henson, "Slade" Knight of Newts. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1993. Print.
- Martin, Julia. The Fighter's Academy. The Haunted Tower. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1992. Print.
- Martin, Julia. Lair of the Vampire Lord. The Haunted Tower. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1992. Print.
- Martin, Julia. Towers of Evil. The Haunted Tower. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1992. Print.
- McComb, Colin. Thunder Rift. Lake Geneva, WI, USA: TSR, 1992. Print.
- Terra, John J. Sword and Shield. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1992. Print.
Here are my offline electronic sources:
- Castle, Louis, Mark Lindstrom, and Ed E. Annunziata. Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun. Redwood City, California: Sega of America Inc., 1992. Computer software.
Here is a list of online sources consulted:
- This is was a source-pdf for this mini-essay/ ramble:
A Magical Medieval Society: City Guide
- A description and explanation of Feudalism:
- Where I get my ideas about rank, nobility, and entitlement from:
Common feudal ranks and titles
- Where I get my ideas about feudal land tenure:
Feudal Land Tenure
- Here is a link to Havard's map:
Thunder Rift Map
- Here is a link to a Thunder Rift timeline that supposes that the Rift is located in northern mountains of Karameikos.
The Thunder Rift region and Timeline
All of the above are by Håvard.
- Here is another timeline, much like the previous one:
Modified Thunder Rift timeline
- Here is a discussion about heraldry and knighthood in Thunder Rift:
Heraldry and Knighthood in Thunder Rift

Resources that are used only in individual sections are listed at the end of that section.

Feudal Thunder Rift:

The King
In the Rumours of Thunder Rift section of the Thunder Rift accessory, there is a story about a visiting “king and princes of a small land” that had come to the Rift to meet the eldest's betrothed and to exchange a dowry. This may refer to either an actual king (King Halvor from DragonStrike, or a descendant?), or to chieftains of either Traladaria or Darokin before unification. Whatever the case, it indicates that Thunder Rift was a province of some sort of larger nation, kingdom, or empire, and that the knights and dukes of Thunder Rift owned allegiance to a higher “king”, that did not live in the Rift itself. It is unknown if there is a current “king” that rules over Thunder Rift from afar, but there is no mention of one. It seems kind of unlikely, as any king would have been happy to give the Rift to a relative, or potential ally, once there where no heirs to the thrown of Barrik.
It is not uncommon throughout history for unfortunate events to be blamed on intent, malice, and witchcraft. It is entirely possible that this event may been retroactively blamed upon the magic users, adding to building tension between the fighters and wizards.
Read All About Nobility
Read All About Kings
The Dragon Strike Video
DragonStrike (1993) and Mystara
King Halvor's reign in Thunder Rift?
Darokin as King Halvor II's Realm

The plague that ripped through the Rift killed indiscriminately. If it behaved like a historic plague, then it would have been just as disastrous as to the rulers as it was to the ruled. The plague and following second Goblin War may have nearly wiped the humans out of the Rift, leaving behind only a few scattered nobles (some of whom had no living vassals, serfs, or peasants), three towns, and a few unknown and isolated foresters, farmers, miners, and woodcutters. The plague may have been responsible for killing most the remaining gentry.
Read All About Plaque

The Duke
During the time before Warriors of the Eternal Sun, I think that (at least) the Melinir area (if not the entire Rift, from a homocentric perspective) would have belonged to Duke Barrik, and Barrik would have been a Duke of the Thunder Rift Dutchy. None of the current towns are on the Valley of the Eternal Sun map, but that may be because they weren't moved there by Ka. Duke Barrik ruled from the predecessor of Barrik's Keep (and both Torlynn and Melinir), Barrik Castle and Barriktown. He is known to have surviving successors that built Barrik's Keep (Warroirs of the Eternal Sun, The Knight of Newts, and the two previously mentioned fan-made timelines). Duke Barrik's family must have been close to the aforementioned king, because the eldest prince (and heir to the throne) was betrothed to someone in the Rift; the only possible candidate would be one of the duke's daughters (if he had any, which he must have, I think).

The loss of Barrik Castle may be a sign that there was some political upheaval after the loss of the entire royal family. The Goblin Wars would not have been such a disaster if there was a still functioning political system. I would assume that that the king would owe the duke protection as much the duke owes the king tithe, taxes, arms and service. If a royal family and entire dutchy was threatened, and kingdom's army would likely be dispatched to support and defend. The lack of support may be because there was no king at the time, and no clear heir to the throne. The armies of the kingdom may have been engaged in battles for succession.
The total disappearance of Barrik Castle after the goblin war must have frightened the remaining populace. This obviously magical event could not have helped relations between the fighters and wzards.
Read All About Homage
Read All About Vassalage
Read All About Enfeoffment
Read All About Fiefdom
Read All About Dukes
Read All About Duchies
Duke Barrik
Barrik in Action
The Valley of the Eternal Sun
Håvard's Hollow World maps
What Ancient Thunder Rift Might Have Looked Like, if the Valley of the Eternal Sun is a copy.

The Quadrial
There is no mention of either a bestowed or hereditary knighthood involved with keeping the peace or protecting Melinir, or any other town. The closest equivalent is the Quadrial.
The Quadrial was formed after the plague and second Goblin War, and the disappearance of Barrik Castle. The Quadrial appears to be a meritocracy, with membership bestowed upon those that are both perceived as being skilled, lawful, and popular. It seems more reminiscent of classical and ancient cultural practises than European dark ages, medieval, or renaissance culture. The existence of a heroic, economically successful, personally powerful, and politically influential group composed of people of any social class, and any race, working together, that had no tie to the landed aristocracy, and had no obligation to support or enforce a social hierarchy would be both a philosophical challenge to the feudal system, and a concrete danger to those that held power by birthright alone. I am of the opinion that the formation of the Quadrial could only have happened during a period when the power of the feudal aristocracy was weak.

The Baron
There was a “Lord Ursus Longmane”, who was a “lord” and wizard that became a vampire, in The Haunted Tower. Since he is the only person with the title of “lord”, he might have been given enfeoffment and entitlement to the fiefdom in the box canyon south of the Farolas Hills (where he would allow Sir Jameson the Defender to build his fighter's academy, that would later become the Gloomfens and the Haunted Tower).

If a “lord” is of similar rank to a baron (the second lowest rank of nobility with land (a fief) held in vassalage to someone of higher rank), then Ursus must have received his entitlement and land from someone above him in rank, meaning the Rift must have still had a Duke or Duchess for the baron to beheld to when either he, or his ancestor, was ennobled (probably of the line of Barrik, if not Barrik himself). Even in his undead state, he may have legal entitlement to the Gloomsfens.

Once again, the lack of military support for a noble family and his entitlement (in the Sword Vs. Wand conflict) indicates a collapsing, or collapsed political system.

Since there are only two large buildings in the Lower Grasslands and it's hills, and they are human keeps, they must be the administrative and political centres for the humans in the area(s). The original Black Knight may certainly have been knighted and belonged to a knightly order, but he may also have been a baron, or even a count. I am of the opinion that the Lower Grasslands was either a barony, or maybe even a county (as the fiefdom may have stretched all the way as far as The Black Swamp, or wherever the boundaries of Melinir's held lands lay). I doubt even Agryl knows his father's rank for sure. What he does know for sure is that he is the only surviving member of the feudal aristocracy, and therefore heir to all the lands of Duke Barrik, or maybe even the forgotten king! What he may not realize, is that he cannot rule without taking an oaf of loyalty to someone that owns the land rented to his family, and that requires him to reveal himself. Currently, despite his family entitlement to the lands, he rules his lands and keep illegally.
Read All About Barons
Read All About Manor Lords
Read All About Manorial Court
Read All About Manor Houses
Read All About Baronies
Read All About British Baronies

The Knights
Sir Jameson the Defender was obviously knighted (hence the title “Sir”). His liege may have been Lord Longmane. The “Sir” of knighthood (or those who have received honours) was usually a purely honorific title, and did not come with rights to land, serfs, taxes, or to build a stronghold of one's own, although, in attempts to bind and reward loyal knights, lands were leased to them with serfs or peasants, so they could receive an income from those lands and afford their horses, weapons, armour, squires, and pages. Manor Houses (non-fortified, but with strongrooms and maybe a tower) where often built on these lands for the knights.

It is unlikely that Sir Jameson would have held the entire enfeoffment to the fief that would become the Gloomfens, maybe just the immediate area of the academy (his “fee”). If there was nobody above him in rank alive (or undead), then he might be in line to receive the title of baron, and the enfeoffment for Lord Longmane's fiefdom when the vampire is destroyed.

Sir Mathew was a knight and instructor at the fighter's academy. He may have been a former squire of Sir Jameson, be under an oath of fealty, and thus still serve him.

The destruction of the tower must have happened less than ten years ago (I think I am being generous). Things like fabrics and textiles where still recognizable. In my climate (with our long and cold winters that reach to -40C, and hot, damp summers that reach +40C), items like that are left unattended would not last more than a year or two. Even in a air-tight, climate controlled area with little or no bugs, such as a home, books and clothing are often destroyed by mold. In the Gloomfens, I doubt much would survive for long.

The original Black Knight was likely to have been an allied minor lord (baron or count, as a I described previously), that provided financial support for, and received training and the promise of military support from the academy. He may well have been dubbed and knighted by a superior (a marquis, earl/ jarl, count, or viscount if he was a baron). His son, Agryl The (new) Black Knight didn't have anybody other than his father (and I don't think you can knight your own children) to knight him. He was probably never dubbed and received his spurs, so he is a knight in name only.

I am unsure of the history or family of Sir Tristram. All I know is that he is a “Sir”, and is lawful in alignment, so must be entitled to the name to use it. He may have been knighted by a foreign lord, the wizard Barrik (taking advantage of familiar rights), Urses Longmane (if Tristram is old enough), or (more likely) one of the towns as a honorific title, or as a “knight of the law” (a mounted and armed soldier tasked with enforcing the law and hunting down those wanted by the courts or his liege).

Stimdun, Renk, Rianna, Taris, Brion, and Erik (all from Sword and Shield) are called knights in the text, but not “Sir”. Maybe, they aren't knights. Or, maybe they have all received awards, or honorific titles for either their good citizenship service to one of the cities, or their military service. Since the only military institution in the Rift is the Melinir Garrison, I assume that many of them work and live there (they make up about 6 of the 10 humans stationed there).
A Quick Introduction to Historical Knighthood
Read All About Knighthood
Read All About Pages
Read All About Squires
Read All About the Subdivision of Feudal Land
Read All About Small Land Titles
Read All About Knight's Fee
Read All About Knight's Service
Read All About Real Knight Academies
Heraldry and Knighthood in Thunder Rift

The Transitional Period: Instability, Invasion, and Adaptation

Possibility of a Non-Feudal and Possibly Democratic Period:
Some time after the destruction of the Fighter's Academy, the Wizard Barrik built Barrik's keep near the site of the original Barrik's Castle and Barriktown. This is the first known attempt of an aristocratic family to return to power, indicating that there was no other “Barrik”, and therefor likely to be no Duke. I can't find a cause of death, but the death of the last of the line of Barrik may be the beginning of the current period.

This couldn't have been very long ago, as Keshute the wererat only moved into the keep roughly “three springs ago”, and many perishable items where frozen in recognizable state. Deterioration would happen slower in the Gauntlin Forest than it would in the Gloomfens, but it would still happen. The forest is not sheltered by mountains, and must have a constant breeze even through the trees (the Rift must be like a giant wind tunnel), so very little excess moisture would collect, and items would be prone to dehydration. If the forest is coniferous (as is likely in a dry, windy, and cold environment), then the soil would contain tannic acids, and deterioration would happen less fast than it would in a deciduous forest. It is possible that Barrik's Keep was abandoned before the Gloomfens, but it seems from unlikely from what I can take from Gustovan's narrative and the room descriptions.

The combined forces of the ogres, orcs, goblins, and kobolds that overrun the Horned Hills may have been responding to a perceived weakness and disorganization on the part of the inhabitant close to the hills, the humans of Melinir, Torlynn, Edgewater, the Marshwoods, and the Black Swamp. This is something they have seen if there was bickering and fighting between towns, villages, and powerful people in a recently past power vacuum. The fairly quick and coherent response may be a sign of an already manifested new order, centred around the town of Melinir, it's mayor, and it's powerful merchant(s).

Kraal Castle was staffed by 1000 fighters, 100 spellcasters, and there where five captain-at-arms and a commandant, at least one of whom was named “Jor Felafinth III”. Uchard Tonsha may have been stationed at Kral, and turned into an undead by the magic of the “orb”.

The mixing of both spellslingers and fighters in one (well functioning) service unit could only take place either before the Sword Vs. Wand conflict, or after hostilities cooled.

At the time of the founding of Kraal, citizens could receive honours so great as having entire castles named after them. Kraal Castle was named after Kraal the smith (a “freeman”, and necessarily part of a smith's guild), and not a nobleman.

The fact that a solution provided by a guilded “freeman” and craftsman shows that there weren’t any powerful aristocrats that could keep the middle class from being politically involved, and that a culture had formed that was open to ideas from almost any class or social group, and respected innovation.

It is stated that “soldiers from often became civic leaders and mayors”. This is further evidence that at this time individuals where able to move around within the economic and political class structure, either through the accumulation of wealth and property, or by appointment and election.

The appointment of a woman to commandant at Castle Kraal shows an open, rational, and modern attitude towards women and their ability to be combatants, administrators, strategists, and leaders. Perhaps, as the strength of the older political system waned, so did irrational patriarchy.

This all strongly indicates a developed middle class, elements of democracy, and an absence of feudal lordship.

The degree of preservation of items in Kraal Castle is strangely varied. We know that there is never any winter: “due to the constant irrigation, the area remains eternally green”. This means that seasons do not slow the rate of deterioration. Metallic items seems to have been preserved, even when submerged (such as a bed frame). Some submerged organic items, like a mentioned bed mattress, have completely deteriorated, while some books are apparently readable. Usually, acidic, tannin rich swamp water will deteriorate metals, but “pickle” any organic items (or people).

The épée, that is found on site is a modern weapon, dating no further back than the 1800's. Anachronism is common on Mystara, so I am not sure if conclusions can be drawn from it, other than that the fortress was used in the most (relatively) modern and recent of times.

I think the evidence indicates that the construction of Raven's Keep also shows the transition of means of measuring and acquiring power away from military strength and the holding of land to feed armies, to the accumulation and hording of coin and other symbolic valuables (treasure). If so, this would show the rise of both the merchants and a upper and middle class (and the rogue classes that both work for, and pray upon them). This probably coincides with the rise to power of those like Maybrush, Black Tom, and Zanzer.
Read All About Freemen
Read All About Guilds
Read All About Épées

Current Period: Probability of Conflicting Politics

An article about city votes, courts, and taxation.

Torlynn has a burgomaster (master of the borough: Gustovan), and therefore is likely to currently be a sovereign “free-city”.
Read All About Burgomasters

Kleine has a Town Council, that Baur is a member of. According to Wikipedia, town councils are always democratic institutions. Kleine must also be a “free-city”. While this does not mean that there is no feudal lord of Kleine, it does mean that it doesn't need one, and the politics aren't set up for their convenience. It is certainly possible that Kleine has no lord at the present time.
Read All About Town Councils
Melinir has a mayor, Valum. Mayors weren’t always elected, they may have been appointed by the crown, as they where in Whales. The presence of a mayor is not a clear sign of political or economic independence, freedom from feudal rule, or democracy. The mayoral system may have come into place just as the feudal period was coming to an end, when whomever controlled the land around Melinir (probably the duke) ceased to be a presence. The mayor may have originally worked for the duke, baron, or even directly for the king. The position would not have a had a problem surviving the loss of the feudal lords, and thus has continued.

Melinir has a garrison of 30 soldiers. Melinir's town watch/ professional standing (small) army is composed of 10 human fighters, 10 halflings, and 10 elves, and surprisingly, no dwarves. I suppose the town expects to be able to draft its citizens, and hire adventurers, mercenaries bodyguards, bounty hunters, private investigators, and the like to deal with large or complex problems. The intentionally balanced racial/ species mix in the garrison might indicate an interest in maintaining appearances for the halflings in the grasslands, and the elves of Gauntlin. Since none of the other towns or villages are described as having a professional fighting force, this may in turn indicate that Melinir had intentions of projecting power and control over as much of the Rift as it could. This would certainly be something that Maybrush would support, so he could better control trade in the Rift. Military relations in the Rift may look more like either the Delian League, or the Second Athenian Empire (on a much, much smaller scale), than it does like northern Europe during either the dark ages or the medieval period. I don't think this set up would be likely if every village had a landlord; he or she would need his own armed force to keep the peasants in line.

If Melinir is in Darokin, and Darokin is modelled mostly after Italy, then it may be either a "Free-City", or an independent "City-State". I think Melinir was probably a "Chartered-City" with a clear set of rights and obligations to the former feudal powers, but since the end of the wizards and fighter war, when the Black Night did not fulfil his legal obligations to the city and lost any power to control it, the town council, trade guilds and wealthy merchants where able to establish Melinir as a "Free-City".
Read All About Mayors
Read All About Chartered Cities
Read All About Imperial Free Cities
Read All About Royal Free Cities
Read All About The Delian League
Read All About The Second Athenian Empire


I think that the Black Knight from Sword and Shield is the only person alive in the Rift with a clear line to someone with a title, making him the only remaining possible (feudal) lord of the human realms. Just because there may be a person with some rights to an area doesn't mean that they have any power. I think that Argyl is nearly powerless against Melinir at the conclusion of Sword and Shield. Realpolitik aside, he may not have much legal right to the city either.
The last (and unnecessary) link: