|June 4th, 2009|
LORDS AND LADIES
The etymology of the English word "lord" is
interesting: In Middle English it was laverd or loverd, which
derived from the Old English hlaford ("master of
the house"). But before that it was hlafweard,
which meant literally "one who guards loaves of bread" (hlaf meaning
"bread or loaf" and weard
meaning "guardian, protector, or ward").
other hand, a lady was hlafæta ("one who
serves the house") -- or, more literally, "one who gives the loaf".
words, an English lord was one who protected the food and an English
lady was one who was responsible for distributing the food (presumably
in a fair and efficient fashion).
this tells you a great deal about the English tradition of nobility.
also find similar etymological roots for other familiar titles: A duke
is literally "one who leads". An earl, on the other hand, was literally
a "warrior" or "brave man". (But it's even more interesting to note
that "earl" was an Anglo-Saxon term. It was equated with the French
title of count when the Normans arrived. The term "count"
derives from the Latin comitem,
which means "companion". Tells you something about the clashing
traditions of nobility in England post-1066, eh?) In Old English a
sheriff was the "chief of the shire" (scirgerefa,
meaning "shire" and -gerefa
meaning "chief, official, reeve").
One of the things I enjoy doing while
creating a fantasy setting is to create original titles of nobility and
position. Not a lot of them (because nobody is really interested in
turning a gaming session into a fictional language lesson), but just a
few scattered here and there. Think of it as spicing or emphasis... or
just a touch of the unnatural.
For example, a number of small nations and
city-states in my campaign are ruled by syrs. For example, Dweredell
is ruled by Syr Arion. This title is derived from the Draconic word for
"lightning" and originally referred to the equivalent of
"duke" or "governor" in an ancient empire that once dominated
wide swaths of the world. The empire used "lightning" as a title
because the syrs ruled through the threat of destructive power. (Which
tells you a great deal about the empire.) When the empire fell, the
local syrs were in a position to consolidate power.
There are two tricks to introducing terms
like this: Moderation and context.
First, don't use a lot of them. And
introduce them at a very
slow pace. (I average about one every 20 sessions.) These things are
spicing. And like all spices, less is usually more.
Second, introduce them through the simple
and expedient means of using them in context. For example, the first
time a group of players entered Dweredell they went looking for the
leader of the city. After a Gather Information check I told them they
could find Syr Arion at the Twin Keeps, and off they went with nary a
Another group started a campaign in the
city-state of Amsyr and when I said "you receive an invitation from the
syr to attend upon him at the palace", one of the players asked,
"What's a syr?" And I said, "A local title, like a duke or a prince."
They said, "Oh." and off we went.
Similarly, in my current campaign, nobody
even batted an eye when I started referring to female knights using the
title Sera. (Thus, Sir Kabel and Sera Nara.) (Why not use "dame"? For a
variety of reasons.)
In both cases the term sort of settled into
the common vernacular of the group. And when some of those players
later learned that the term nainsyr
meant "let there be lightning" (because it was the command word for a
magical sword), maybe some connection was made (either consciously or
Or maybe not. It doesn't really matter: My
mission was already accomplished. I had already leveraged them a little
further away from Generic Fantasy World #961.