Friday, June 24, 2011

Factions: Publicans

First, a quick apology: I'm very sorry that I've been sporadic for a while, and had to go on hiatus for a while before that. I hope I haven't lost any readers, and I apologize to those who may have lost interest. Now, I can't guarantee consistency for the rest of the summer -- I'm still selling my house and preparing for both a move and a wedding -- but things should hopefully quiet down at least a little bit as I'm now settling into my new job and the house is almost ready for sale. Anyone here happen to be looking for a house in Fairbanks, AK? Drop me a comment... right, didn't think so.

Okay, with no further ado, the Publicans!

Walking down the street, you notice a long line of people stretching out of a storefront. Curious, you investigate a little closer, and see that the front of the line is a small stand, with a cook ladling out cupfuls of a rich, steaming broth to every person in line. With no money exchanging hands, you realize that this must be one of the Publicans' charitable works... The philanthropic arm of the City, the Publicans spend their time feeding and clothing the poor, building public parks and shelters, and generally helping the lower classes however they can.

Archetype: Philanthropy and social work doesn't have a strong tradition in fantasy fiction: most charitable organizations are religious in nature, as was generally the case in Medieval Europe. The Publicans are not religious -- well, they may be, but they aren't associated with a religious organization. So really, the Publicans are more closely inspired by modern philanthropists, and not any proper fantasy archetype...


Real-Life Inspiration: The Publicans are inspired by two sources, which are fundamentally the same: those rich people who hold charity benefits, and the low-level social workers who deal directly with the poor. The social workers, filled with hope or cynicism, do what they do because they believe in making the world a better place, and that not everyone can help themselves. Some of the rich are the same, which others just try to build popularity and contribute to the "popular" charity this season. All of these inspirations, idealistic or cynical, come together to build the Publicans.

Historically, the term 'publican' has had several different meanings. In the Roman Republic and Empire, the publicans were public contractors, supplying the legionaries, managing the ports, and building public buildings. This definition is similar, though not identical to the role of my Publicans. Later in Roman history, publicans served as tax collectors. Less similar to the City's publicans -- though I suppose they might take on that responsibility, I haven't figured out who collects the taxes in the City. Lastly, in the Renaissance, tavern-keepers (and, apparently, pimps) were known as publicans. While my Publicans could run taverns (and probably give discounts to the poor), it doesn't particularly fit. So, which of these definitions inspired the Publicans' name? Actually, none of the above. I just picked up the word "public" and added a suffix, actually thinking I'd made up the word. It bothers me a little that it's an actual word -- and that my definition doesn't really match it -- but whatever, I'm in love with the name.

Theme: The Publicans are all about help. On the upside, they help those who can't help themselves. On the other hand, those they assist sometimes lose their agency, becoming dependent on the system. And then there are those who, for the sake of pride or honor or community respect, refuse to get help or resent that they get -- and the Publicans will, for the most part, still insist on helping those people. I think it's important that each faction provide both the good and bad of their goals and methods, even when it's something as "unambiguously" good as charity. Personally, I would love the Publicans to exist and hold power -- but I know many who want charities and government to stay out of their lives, and several who have lost their power to function in a normal life because they've grown accustomed to unemployment or disability payments or what have you. This dichotomy -- help and security vs. freedom and agency -- is the fundamental disagreement that puts the Publicans and the Egoists on the opposite sides of most debates (and occasional street fights).

Twist: Hmm. A twist. My first instinct is to say that some of the Publicans have a secret workforce of unpaid laborers "recruited" from the Publican soup kitchens and such, creating some dastardly machine in private. Then again, that is a bit cliche. So perhaps they're secretly building an army, out of the most grateful and loyal poor they help, to eventually start a war and end the Egoists once and for all. Yeah. That'll do for now.

Thanks for sticking with me, regular readers, and join me next time as we examine the war-like Sabercrats.