The Free City of Beneficence

24 Mar

A new setting for Schooled in Magic.

The Free City of Beneficence

Geography

Beneficence is located along the coastline of the Kingdom of Zangaria, bordering the Barony of Cockatrice. Unusually, the city is largely based on an island carved out by rivers (not unlike Manhattan), with no real land borders. The Tribune River thus makes it incredibly difficult for the various Kings or Barons of Zangaria to assert their authority over the city, as the city – a home for sailors and sailing – is easily able to import food to feed its population. As such, the city maintains a political independence from Zangaria that is rarely challenged by the kingdom’s monarchs.

There are four bridges into the city; the Holyoake Bridge, the North Bridge, the Water Bridge and the Castle Bridge. The North and Water bridges are designed to be raised (like a castle drawbridge) if danger threatens, while the other two are heavily guarded and charmed against intruders.

It is theoretically possible for someone to sneak into the city by swimming the gorge and climbing the rocky walls, but few take the possibility seriously.

Beneficence is divided up into twenty-one districts. These range from Beneficence Castle (the area surrounding the castle), through Fishing Plaice (not a misspelling; this is what passes for humour in the city) and finally to the Lower Depths, where most of the poorer people live.

The richest men and women in the city tend to live in moderate houses, as land space is a premium in Beneficence. Middle-class men and women have smaller houses, often shared between one whole family. At the Lower Depths, the poor live crammed into huge apartment blocks, where crime and social deprivation is rife.

Government

The city is governed by the Guilds (every freeborn man must join a guild, either through being born into it or apprenticeship). Each Guildmaster meets his fellows in Beneficence Castle – located to the edge of the city – to hash out common understandings and modify the code of law.

Each guild has a different method of appointing its Guildmaster.

Recently, a growing movement has been agitating for democratic reform and the creation of a city council, rather than the Guild-dominated government. This movement, however, has failed to impress the guilds.

The Population

Like most Free Cities, Beneficence’s population is largely composed of freemen from all over the Allied Lands. Roughly 10% of the population, however, consists of slaves, either sold into slavery to pay their debts (or their parents’ debts) or brought in from Zangaria. Freeing slaves, however, is considered a good deed; slaveholders are encouraged to give their slaves a day or two to earn money for themselves, so they may eventually buy their way out of slavery. (A handful of slaves are enslaved as punishment for crimes, which is magically-enforced; such slaves cannot be released until they have served their term.) Children born to slaves are automatically considered free and, if sired by the slave-owner, are rated as his children.

Freeborn Women are regarded as legal equals to men and enjoy the same basic rights as Freeborn Men. (Female slaves have no rights, any more than their male counterparts.) They can sign contracts, accept or reject marriage as they choose, hold money and property in their own name and generally act as men. There are, however, harsh laws against infidelity (both male and female), which mandate that anyone who commits adultery can expect harsh punishment. In certain cases, these can include mandatory enslavement. These laws were originally signed to ensure that family ties between merchant clans were honoured, yet still remain on the books.

Although children have few rights until they reach the age of maturity (second blood for girls, roughly fifteen for boys) there are strong legal protections written into the laws for them. In particular, children may not be entered into marriage or betrothal contracts and their parents are required to ensure that they are suitably educated and prepared for adult life. (It is a legal gray area if a child can be sold into slavery, see below.) Once they reach the age of maturity, there is a formal ceremony for them, followed by their induction into their guild.

One problem, however, is that debts are passed down through the family tree. If a parent should die with his/her debts unpaid, they are passed down to the children. This means that the children find themselves liable for the debts, which they may not even have known existed. (By a quirk in the law, the husband or wife of the debtor is not considered liable, although he or she may pay the debts anyway.) Under such circumstances, a child could legally be seized and sold into slavery to cover debts. Attempts to reform this law have failed owing to various vested interests.

It is generally estimated that the population of Beneficence, both free and slave, totals roughly two million. This is, however, an estimate.

Religion

The city has no formal religion. There are temples for seven major gods scattered through the Holy Street, with smaller shrines for religions that aren’t generally popular throughout the city. As always, most of the population worships their household gods too.

In recent years, the Followers of Justice have been growing considerably stronger, particularly in the wake of changes caused by the New Learning.

(‘Justice’ is a generalised name. It is generally believed that the God of Justice is known by many names, but he is always the same person. (On Earth, Mars and Ares would be considered the same entity, with differing religious practices accepted and tolerated.)

Magic

The Magician’s Guild reports that over 500 magicians live in the city, most of them considered middle-rank at best. These tend to include alchemists, healers and a handful of combat sorcerers. No full sorcerer is believed to live near Beneficence.

A number of magical families have houses within Beneficence. However, they do not have formal political power within the city itself.

There are no formal magical academies within the city.

Currency

Like the rest of the Allied Lands, Beneficence uses gold, silver and bronze coins of variable value. Shops keep assessing equipment on hand to inspect the currency.

Law and Order

Beneficence is protected by the City Watch, which consists of the Watchmen, the Guardians and the Reserve. The Watchmen serve as constables, the Guardians as detectives and the Reserve provides additional manpower if necessary. In theory, every able-bodied Freeman is liable to serve in the Reserve; in practice, this tends to fall on the upper and middle classes, if there is a need for assistance.

Beneficence’s laws are split into two sections; City Law and Guild Law. City Law covers general law and order (i.e. mugging would be a breach of City Law) while Guild Law covers offences against a specific guild. For example, if someone cheated while the guild was electing an official, the guild would have the right to punish him without recourse to outside authority.

Conflicts between City Law and Guild Law are far from unknown. Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by City Law (provided you can back up your words, if necessary). However, certain levels of speech are banned by Guild Law and someone can get into hot water by saying the wrong thing. Unsurprisingly, reform-minded people within the guilds have been campaigning to have guild laws struck down or rewritten.

If condemned, prisoners can be whipped, enslaved, exiled or executed. (The city has no long-term jail.) The first two consist of public punishments, intended to deter as well as to punish; the latter two are for more serious crimes. An exile is strictly forbidden to return to the city, own property within the city or communicate with anyone inside the city; anyone who attempts to keep in contact with the exile can face the same punishment for himself. If the exile owned property, it is either passed to his family or seized and sold to the highest bidder. The exile’s family name is also wiped, with the result that neither he nor his heirs can be considered legitimate by the city’s authorities.

Defence

In the event of the city coming under attack, the City Watch is expected to provide the core of the defences, while the Reserves man the walls. However, owing to the formidable natural barriers and the presence of a large number of magicians, the city hasn’t been seriously tested after Alexis II of Zangaria attempted to take Beneficence and failed.

The city also plays host to a large number of mercenaries. Under the agreement with the Guildmasters, the mercenaries are obliged to join the defence if necessary.

The city’s navy provides ships for sea defence, commerce protection and transporting food into the city, in the event of a siege.

Outside Diplomacy

By the Treaty with Zangaria, Beneficence is formally barred from having any formal treaty relationships with any other part of the Allied Lands. Beneficence sends representatives to the White City, but nowhere else.

Politically, the city is neutral. This doesn’t stop it becoming a hotbed of intrigue.

Economy

Beneficence draws most of its wealth from shipping; the city serves as a trading hub both for the allied lands and the other continents. Further sources of wealth come from small industries within the city itself, applied knowledge and guild-specific education.

The city does not tax its inhabitants. Each guild pays 10% of its earnings to the Community Chest, which is distributed by the Guild Council. (There’s no legal reason why two separate guilds can’t exist even if they cover the same area, provided they both pay.) There is also a small charge for use of the harbour facilities (generally waived for city residents) and other facilities within the city.

Food and Drink

The average person in the city eats fish – the city fishermen regularly bring in a colossal haul from the oceans. (This raises problems of eventually depleting the reserves, but for the moment Beneficence simply doesn’t have the appetite of a modern city.) Small rooftop gardens provide a small amount of fresh fruit and vegetables for the inhabitants, but most such supplies are shipped into the city, either from Zangaria or nearby states. There is a long-standing agreement with the Barony of Holyoake (now Cockatrice) that may have been undermined by events within Zangaria.

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9 Responses to “The Free City of Beneficence”

  1. mark møllegaard March 25, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    what dos There are no formal magical academies within the city mean a there some informal ones

  2. Daniel Silver March 25, 2014 at 3:43 am #

    Sounds like a very cool setting with a lot of potential. Are you maybe thinking some kind of detective story? I think that would be nice to see.

  3. Mark March 25, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Sounds like someplace Emily might actually like. It has a lot of potential as a fixer upper with a few modern innovations. I bet they could use a Bank.

  4. mark møllegaard March 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    Is dis to the next one

  5. William Ameling May 23, 2017 at 5:52 am #

    So how does the Railroad get over the river into the city?

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