League Wednesdays

This week is our fourth and final look at the Fresian Merchant League, where we explore the third tier of the Merchant League and look at the workhorses of the League.

This week we look at the Jonkheer Families.

Jonkheer is an old Fresian title for the lowest rank of nobility and it quite describes this tier in the League. There are many, many more families below the Jonkheer Families, but they are in most cases actual literal families of a mere handful members that have become wealthy enough to buy their way into the League. Those families are called the Hearth Families and when a powerful trading family boasts of controlling a few dozen families it is of the Hearth Families they speak.

The Jonkheer Families are a different story. Not only do they have the money and power to sit where they are on the League totem pole, but in most cases they have history. It takes a lot for a family to even get to this tier, so even the newly inducted Jonkheer Families have a long history behind them. Some were wealthy farming families that have grown large and gained vast territories, others were old merchant guild members, having gained control of their guilds and lined their pockets in that manner.

That is not to say there aren’t some proper bastards in this tier. Quite a few families have risen from the Hearth Families through banking, investments and moneylending. They sit and do nothing while other men work hard to pay off their exorbitant interest rates. Investors, however, are much needed in the Merchant League. A favourite League saying is ‘the money must flow’ and flow is does. More money pass through League hands in a day than some nations see in a month, all thanks to their investors and bankers.

True to the name of Jonkheer, these families are like the old barons and knights of Middelburg’s past. They sit in their manors overseeing their workers and take their pound of flesh. While the families in the upper two tiers manage other families, the Jonkheer Families manage the guilds, the workhouses, the farming collectives, and the range of stores to make their money. They are not so low as to merely own one or two stores or farms, that is left to the Hearth Families and below. The Jonkheer Families each can own dozens of stores, handfuls of farms, a merchant guild here and there and perhaps a lucrative investment in the military.

The Jonkheer families are the faces of the League most often seen but rarely recognised. They do most of the work, yet get little of the credit.

In the image from left to right, top to bottom: For the bloody stag: Aalmer, Bauwer, Heeren, Mulder, Rosenwind, Schuttman, Sneijder, van Dal, Wilms, Wouters. For the iron eagle: De Boer, De Schild, Keil, Lauwens, Leitner, Sturm, Tiedeman, van Leeukop. For the shining gold: De Wit, De Wolf, Jonckers, Pender, Reinier, Roggeween, van Aard, Verhoeven, Voss. For the brass ship: Appeltuin, Hoekstra, Koolen, Lamar, Lavoie, Mercier, Rousseau, van Kwaad.

League Wednesdays

This week on League Wednesdays we delve deeper into the Fresian Merchant League and look at those trade families that serve the four governing families from last week.
 
This week we look at the Patrician Families.
 
There are sixteen Patrician Families in all, although it is not a fixed number or even a fixed title. At this tier and below, families come and go, and the only reason a specific trade family is called a Patrician Family is because the other families have recognised their wealth and power. Some of these families are as old as the Four Governing families and some predate them by centuries. Others are only as old as their Patriarch, having come into being in the last few decades through good fortune and better contacts.
 
As they are, they are the most powerful families (barring the Four Governing Families) in the Merchant League and it is through them that mountains of money flow into the coffers of the League.
 
While these families are far too rich to be said to have done an honest day’s labour, it is through these families that the work of the League gets done. In Middelburg when “the Merchant League” has done this-and-that, or the “van Rosedaal family” has procured so-and-so, it is almost always these sixteen Patrician Families that have made this happen. Perhaps more that the Governing Families, these families are the true heart of the League. They see that the League keeps ticking.
 
In the Runed Age RPG, when any of the Four Governing Families or even the Merchant League as a whole is involved your characters’ lives (by giving them jobs, being antagonists, or just happen to own the shop you want to burgle), more often than not it is actually these Patrician Families that you are actually dealing with. The Four Governing Families are merely taking the credit, which is their due one can argue. This is not to say that you won’t ever be dealing with the Governing Families, they do enjoy a bit of skulduggery as much as the next family.
 
The Patrician Families may be far richer than your characters will ever hope of being, but there is only one thing people with power want: more power. These Patrician Families dream of one day being the Fifth Governing Family, or better yet, replacing one of the current Families. This is where the true shadow wars occur. Each Patrician Family wants to be at the top, yet none want any of the other be, so they struggle and fight against each other while the Governing Families look on and laugh. Sometimes there is a family with a slim chance and the Governing Families start to take notice.
 
The Tuefel Family once got support of more than half the Heisenstein’s vassal families and was about to make their move. The van Rosedaal family was even lending secret support. However the Hugenbergs (as is ever their wont) enjoy the status quo and joined forces with the Heisensteins to put the Tuefel family in their rightful place.
 
In the image: For Hugenberg, left to right, top to bottom: Becke, Bösche, Erkens, Konig, Siegel. For van Windburg: Beullens, Breitbarth, Roijakker, Segher. For van Rosedaal: Arissen, Cuyper, Maier, van der Veen. For Heisenstein: Bisset, Arntz, Teufel.

League Wednesdays

Last Wednesday we started a new series by looking at the Fresian Merchant League, but this was just a brief overview of it, much like our prior Culture Friday segments. This week we will start drilling down into this bedrock of wealth, corruption and villainy to show you the sort of people your characters may be working for… or against.

This week on League Wednesdays we have the Four Governing Families.

From left to right in the image we can see the Hugenberg, the van Windburg, the van Rosedaal, and the Heisenstein families. They are put in the order of most to least powerful and the first and last of the governing families are not native to Alfresia. It were these four families that created the League and for the past century have been sitting comfortably on top. While there are many, many lesser families, none has of yet threatened their rule.

These four didn’t gain their money overnight when they created the League, they were wealthy dynasties well before the Alfresian War of Independence, with lots of guilds and merchant alliances bowing to them. The formation of the League was a safeguard against what the future may hold. After all, there may come a time when the winds of capitalism are not blowing their way. By creating their own sovereign nation, they have some protection, some insurance, against this.

The League has often been called the epitome of republicanism, of freedom, of a man’s potential to become whatever he desires, but the truth is far from it. While there are no kings, emperors, or some such at the head of the League (the Hugenberg’s noble status notwithstanding) shouting commands at the peasants, the League is not the laissez faire, free-for-all country that most think. It is far more feudal than even the Patriarchs of the governing families would admit.

This pseudo-feudalism is most evident by the League’s organisational structure. At its head sits the king, the League itself: invisible, unreachable, speaking only through his advisors. Below him sits the four Dukes, the four governing families. Then the league is subdivided further and further down until you reach the individual stores. Each trade family, great and small, is subject and vassal to the family above them, with the greatest families having a half dozen or so vassal families. Through this the four governing families keep control of the League as the lower caste families can’t join forces with those of a rival governing family.

Because of this, the “reach” of the governing families are often overestimated. The van Rosedaal family is quite famous for its luxury weapons, each one a work of art handcrafted start to finish by a single artisan. However, the van Rosedaals never see the weapons, the raw material, or even the artisan; they don’t make the deals or even do the paperwork. It is the Holt family, the van Rosedaal’s vassal, which handles all of this, but they only oversee the broader picture, the shipping, the taxes, that sort of thing. In truth, it is the van Laar family, a vassal of the Holts which are the weapon specialists. They do all the work, they gather the raw materials, the artisans, they get the work orders, and they see it done. At the end of the day, however, the van Rosedaal family takes their share of the profit and gets the recognition.