Mirrors in the Desert
Balic is home to false elections and free markets.
“In Balic, we treasure our freedoms. You are free to speak as you will. Of course, Andropinis is also free to speak as he will, which might very well be an order for your execution. Choose your words with care, my friend.” — Darian, a patrician of Balic
A wealthy mercantile city-state, bordered by verdant farmland on the shores of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue, Balic is under the control of Dictator Andropinis, a sorcerer-king who claims to have been elected to his throne over seven hundred years ago. Despite the dictator’s grip, Balic is perhaps the most affluent city-state in the Tyr Region and is home to powerful merchant houses that bring great wealth to Balicans fortunate enough to share in the prosperity. The business of Balic is business, and for the most part, Andropinis does not interfere in routine affairs of nobles or merchant emporiums.
The city is renowned for its democratic traditions. Balic’s nobles are seated in a Chamber of Patricians that creates and maintains the code of laws, and its templars must stand for election to 10-year terms. The various professional guilds (and Balic’s chapter of the Veiled Alliance, for that matter) conduct their business by taking votes and electing officers; even the dictator is, in theory, elected. Much of this democracy, however, is little more than an illusion. The office of dictator is held for life, and Andropinis has endured in his position now for centuries. Public debate and discourse is allowed, but only up to a point. Any direct criticism of the dictator or his templars is dealt with harshly, and the patricians learned long ago to pass only those laws that meet with the dictator’s approval.
Balic enjoys a cultural heritage and a civic mythology dating back thousands of years, which finds expression in a public appreciation for poetry and drama. The mythology still lives in the form of powerful arcane vestiges; Andropinis and his templars are masters of manipulation. The cultural heritage is evident in the dozens of theaters through out the city-state, which run the gamut from crowded, ramshackle stagehouses in the poorer quarters to magnificent amphitheaters in the noble districts. In Balic, talented playwrights and orators can win acclaim equal to that held by the greatest gladiators as long as they steer clear of subject matter that the dictator’s templars might find offensive.
Governance and Power
Most Balicans regard Andropinis as a necessary evil, resigning themselves to the fact that the dictator wields supreme power and isn’t likely to surrender it. Andropinis routinely arranges the elections of templars he favors and directs the Chamber of Patricians (a senate made up of nobility) to pass the laws he drafts. From time to time, he indulges idealists and reformers, allowing corrupt nobles or unsatisfactory templars to be indicted or voted out. However, the dictator retains absolute control over the city’s legions and brooks no defiance of his personal authority.
Outside of the Dictator, Balic’s most powerful are the Praetor Epistates, or “high praetors,” Andropinis’ favored templars whose responsibility extends far beyond their official titles. Once in the Sorcerer-King’s favor, high praetors advise him, study the arcane, psionic and primal arts under his direct tutelage, and never have to worry about losing an election. Two notable Praetor Epistates are Hyronius Phanes, a young and popular templar whose already made a number of popular reforms, and Darian Haraxes, Andropinis’ cruel and cunning right hand.
Beneath the Praetor Epistates (yet still above the Chamber of Patricians) are the merchant houses, local chapters of which are only appendages of vast, desert-spanning empires. While Houses from other city-states do business in Balic, the majority of trade is dominated by one of four Balican Houses: Jarko, the ruthless slave-traders; Wavir, the largest and newest house; Tomblador, the oldest House; and Rees, a small house with great profits derived from predatory money-lending.
Within the nobility, two patrician families stand out. The first is the Nauripides, a family of idealists whose persistence and wealth have often forced reforms — small, easily reversed reforms, but reforms nonetheless — from Andropinis himself. The second is the Zorzi, sycophants to the Dictator who boast numerous high praetors in their genealogy.
Though Balic faces little danger from other city-states, giants from the Estuary of the Forked Tongue often stage raids on the harbor and the fields outside Balic. Balic boasts seven legions, of about 1,000 men each, that guard its land. Most able-bodied men are required to serve three years in the legions, and any women that want to join are allowed. The Praetor Epistate Haraxes also fields a network of spies, loyal only to himself and the Dictator, who operate both in rival city-states and in Balic.
Commoners and Slaves
Many of Balic’s common tradesfolk and artisans belong to guilds of varying power. Some guilds are strong enough to force nobles and merchants to heed their demands; for example, the Potters’ Guild enforces high standards (and high prices) on Balic’s distinctive pottery, ensuring that its members earn a good wage from selling the pieces they produce. The Theatre Guild also has leveraged numerous favors from the Chamber of Patricians, ensuring the even the lowliest stage-hand lives relatively well. Below the common citizens are the slaves, who make up 40 percent ofthe city-state’s population. Slaves enjoy basic protections under Balic’s laws, but the praetors enforce these laws only in the most egregious cases of cruelty.
Though your characters probably won’t know this, Balic’s tradition of dialogue and democracy, however superficial, has created a fecund base for Veiled Alliance cells. Often sponsored by members of House Wevir, or sympathetic patricians, the Balican Veiled Alliance runs a network all the way up to Altaruk, where a patrician named Arisphistaneles coordinates their operations. While some Veiled Alliance try to pass reforms through the Chamber, most work to undermine templar activities.
Ironically, because Andropinis emphasizes Balic’s connection with the land, he has encouraged druidic circles to work more actively against him. Shamans, wardens, and druids stepped in the old ways seek to liberate the primal spirits enslaved by the Dictator and his praetors, and perhaps turn nature back against the defilers.