Building a Realm in Feudums

A Guide to FEUDUMS' Feudal System 

So, first a little background ... here's a Quick Recap on Feudalism.

If you aren't interested in the historical background or you weren't asleep for this part of history class, you can skip ahead to "The Lords of the Realm" for game-related content.

Before feudalism, little incentive existed for personal loyalty to sovereign rulers in Europe. Land was owned by nobility, and those who held land held it purely at the lords' will. After Charlemagne's death, Europe fell apart into hundreds of Petty Kingdoms and men in the military service of lords began to press for support - which the lords acquiesced, realizing the importance of the faithful military.

Later, these estates became hereditary and thus began the reign of feudalism. Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in Medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. At its core, it was an agreement between a liege lord and a vassal. A person became a vassal by pledging political allegiance and providing military, political, and financial service to a lord in exchange for holdings, known as feudums or fiefs.

A liege possessed complete sovereignty over land, or acted in the service of another higher ranked sovereign (such as a king). The feudum was hereditary, giving the vassal tenure over the land and rights to further distribute some of his holdings to raise his own vassals. A formal ceremony, called the Commendation Ceremony served to create and strengthen this bond between a liege and his vassal; it was composed of two elements, one to perform the Oath of Fealty (an oath of allegiance and pledge of service) and the other an Homage (the acknowledgement of the vassal's tenure).

It's easy to equate feudalism to brutality and bloodshed, but this is somewhat misleading; feudalism was a relatively civil arrangement in an especially vicious time and place in history. The relationship of a vassal to a lord was servile, but it was also based on mutual respect, and feudalism stands as the first systematic, voluntary sale of inheritable land. The arrangement typically wasn't forced on the vassal; it was profitable for both parties on mutual consent, and it fostered the allegiance necessary for control of distant or extensive territories.

The word Feudulism didn't exist until the late 19th century, coming from feudal, an adjective, also only developed in the 17th century by English scholars. The gesture of homage (though without any feudal significance) survives in the ceremony for conferring degrees at the University of Cambridge. The remains of feudalism are still with us in current laws, ie. a rental agreement is made between a landlord and a tenant; state property taxes on landowners resemble the services required of a vassal, or state governments may take possession of land when a landowner dies with no will or heirs.

(Parts of the recap are based on verified and licensed material. You can find more on the topic here.)

The Lords of the Realm

In FEUDUMS, anyone can become a liege lord or vassal of another player - most probably, you'll end up being a liege to some and a vassal of another. And, for the most part, that's a great thing. Feudalism works like an archaic social network, with factions gathering around the major influencers - with some of the influencers eventually becoming kings or peers of powerful kingdoms. If you are part of the society, if you have your allegiances, lieges and vassals, you may expect their support, either military, economic, diplomatic or counseling, because only together you'll stand the test of other factions.

Still, whether you're a liege or a vassal, an important thing you mustn't forget is that feudal relations aren't set in stone and the political map may change rapidly. It's a fundamental political feature in FEUDUMS that agreements and allegiances are working as political pointers; they show the road you're expected to take and mark the price of leaving it, but the choice is always yours. Diplomacy isn't the focus here - maybe in a later article -, but politics can also offer Proper Reasons: with proper reasons, one can break ties or agreements at a much lower cost of their dignity. Either way, opportunities will ultimately put loyalty and ambition to regular tests.

Minions Rising

Feudal Power PyramidTo become a vassal is no disgrace but an opportunity. Your allegiance to your liege consolidates your position and offers protection at the cost of authority and freedom. But it’s a bargain price, if you find the right group of players to join. A good liege will know that there is no realm without loyal and worthy vassals and there are no loyal vassals without mutual respect and aid. Most lieges tend to offer a win-win situation so they don't have to watch their back all the time. To become a vassal, you can offer an Oath of Fealty to someone in your vicinity - or to a crowned King, regardless of physical distance. Your liege should hold a higher rank in the feudal society than you are - be more chivalrous or maintain bigger sovereignty (we'll address these a bit later). Choose your liege carefully as you're to subjugate yourself to his de jure rule - more importantly, you will give political authority to your liege over your lands and diplomacy. For a new or casual player, it is highly advised to offer an Oath of Fealty to a more advanced player - if not for the protection then for the tutoring. Having vassals comes with a lot of benefits for a developed dynasty, so no doubt there will be more than enough experienced players that offer counseling and protection for your loyalty. Once a player accepts your offer to an Oath of Fealty, you'll find out the terms for a Commendation Ceremony together.

Let's quickly examine a few choices:

  • Authority and tenure: If you owned lands prior to your vassalization, your liege may obtain de jure authority over them but most often will also acknowledge your tenure, thus you keep your lands. Even if the liege insists on passing some lands to his direct possession, the game doesn't allow the liege to claim all your lands as it's not the intended use of vassalization; for such an oppressive behavior there are war-time diplomacy options instead. Your liege can also offer lands to you as part of the deal, to strengthen you and provide more sources of income in exchange of your services.
  • Knight and other services: You might be required to send part of your regular income as taxes to your liege, and you must attend military service to the liege in his Campaigns. You can also quick-start a game by accepting a Knight Service Request from an active player - probably, but not necessarily a real-life friend. Such offers can be sent over social/gaming networks or via email. A Knight Service Request will already have the terms of the Commendation Ceremony defined, which, upon agreeing may let you join a running game as your friend's direct vassal. In such cases, he or she must also offer lands to you from his own territory to establish a base of regular income for you; you won't get anything else to start with but this package your friend has offered from his own area. As a vassal, you will automatically get the diplomatic stance of your liege - which is expected to be honored.

The game allows you to either automatically deny or adopt diplomatic changes that come from your liege so long as you're in a feudal relation (these options may be much more interesting when your liege is also a vassal of someone - another noble, or a king). Not following your liege's diplomacy may cost you heavily though, if a Proper Reason cannot be presented. If your liege is summoning armies for a Campaign, you're obliged to answer the call within a limited period with the amount of troops your Commendation Ceremony has defined.

On the other side, your liege is expected to treat you with dignity, and to refrain from making unjust demands. There are Proper Reasons for a vassal to break faith with the liege (such as the liege trying to revoke lands without reason; repeatedly ignoring the terms of Knight Service; falling under the rank of the vassal, or if the vassal is forced to choose between the liege and their king). Breaking faith without proper reasons is very dangerous, at least without strong allies who could protect the vassal against the wrath of the defied lord, since the former liege (as a de jure sovereign over the rebelling lands) may get huge in-game bonuses for a few dozen turns against the player.

By your command, My Liege

Becoming a liege lord is an achievement in itself. While it doesn't have many prerequisites, it will likely happen once you've already acquired some lands and fame. You can only offer vassalization to players that are ranked below you either in their Virtue or Dominion score.

Virtue is a complex and delicate thing, depending on one's great deeds and misdeeds, either carried on the field of diplomacy, feudal obligations, warfare, chivalry and treating commoners. If you're a paragon of virtue, you can accept vassals even if you're less powerful, simply because you're an idol of your age.

Dominion, on the other hand, speaks about one's raw might and sovereignty, based on the size of their realm and the amount of their vassals - so even lords with questionable merits may extend their realm by their sheer power, without even drawing a sword. Both Dominion and Virtue are tied to the Moral System and both can be traded for different boosts and effects, but that's for another interesting article.

Accepting vassals may happen due to a dozen good reasons but typically happens in three situations:

  • When your hands are full. Dividing your lands between loyal vassals give you a steady flow of income and military aid while also freeing up precious time for you; in different ranks you may have different focus and by delegating your tasks and responsibilities to trustworthy followers, such as protecting a borderline feudum or governing a safe haven, you can stay focused on your strategic goals and personal campaigns. The amount of lands you can govern is also limited by a number of things - if you wish to extend your realm, sooner or later, you'll need others. You're not obliged to (in fact, you shouldn't) do everything in a realm or you'll end up being crushed by a rival who learned to delegate well.
  • When your hands are empty. By making another player a vassal, you get more power: new regions will subjugate to your de jure rule, and if you can usurp them, may even be attached to your personal properties. More taxes and more troops will become available for your plans, and unlike an ally who is generally independent, your vassals will share your diplomacy.
  • When you go underhanded. Persuade rival vassals to abandon their liege and join you; the bigger the chances that the vassals of this vassal may side with the defied liege and start a civil war; the better for you. As a liege lord, you retain de jure authority over all territories of your vassals, which you can use to reclaim them should you become disappointed in your vassal and have a proper reason to revoke their feudums. They are expected to follow your diplomacy, and with the appropriate reasons, you have the rights to reject a vassal of your vassal if you don't want a particular player to join your faction. This kind of direct authority makes the relationship complex, intimate and challenging.

King of the Hill

If a player becomes mighty enough and is still - or once again - independent, he may, by the Divine Right of Kings, be crowned and become a king. His direct vassals become the peers and all their vassals are subjects of the newly founded kingdom. Kings cannot vassalize each other in FEUDUMS - by doing so, one would acknowledge the power of the other and thus lose their own title and rights to become a peer, with the lesser kingdom assimilating into the other king's realm. The latter, however, is an option to merge kingdoms into an even bigger empire.

Becoming king gives you the highest feudal rank in FEUDUMS' society and since kings have an emphasized role in feudalism, ruling by Divine Right grants a few extra rights for you to secure your throne. Normally, a vassal should be loyal to his liege, but once a faction turns into a kingdom, a king is also considered the liege lord of all the subjects, and clauses reserving this allegiance are inserted to all feudal relationships. For you as a king taking care of his lower ranked vassals, this may act for you as a safeguard: whenever a noble attempts to turn on you, his vassals get Divine Right as a proper reason to side with you instead - without their allegiances considered broken. You can also appoint nobles to key positions in a kingdom (such as a Chancellor or Marshall), giving them extra powers and responsibility that will, if they do a good job, earn them much Virtue and prestige. Either in the base game or in its first free Expansion (depending on schedules and budget), you will also have the option to set kingdom laws for levies, taxing and a few other things - that will allow a king to easily set rules that all vassals - the indirect vassals too - should comply with. We also have plans for a lightweight research system that would require the whole kingdom to put great effort into accomplishments that may give benefits to all regions or nobles in the kingdom.

Still, you should never forget that the greater the heights, the harder the falls. Dethroning a king can happen in a few ways - either by internal or external forces. As a king, you should maintain a huge Virtue and Dominion, because nobles rising above you may attempt to overthrow your rule through political manoeuvres or open rebellion. Any signs of weakness, and rival kings or nobles may find a perfect opportunity to support their claim on your throne and start scheming. In the lands of FEUDUMS, a king never sleeps.