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Satraps and Sultans

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It's hard to know what to call the territorial rulers of the Lunar Empire: our oldest sources unanimously call them 'Sultans', while more recent material has adopted 'Satraps'. This is my attempt to explain and reconcile the confusion, and get some game value out of doing so.

For many years, ever since the first map in White Bear and Red Moon, the Lunar Empire was divided up into Sultanates. Now, the other year, I was writing something about the government of the Carmanian Empire to Greg Stafford, and I said that the Carmanians set up a system of Satrapies, which became the later Lunar Sultanates. Now, this was in a letter, but one imagines Greg exclaiming, "Satrapies! That's the word!"

Greg then decided that, in fact, they were always called Satrapies in the Lunar Empire. You're supposed to get out your correction fluid and change every occurrence. But to me, that seems boring and wrong! We've got so many printed sources around, and we know what the image of a sultan is.While not many people know about Satraps (they seem to be official governor-type guys), everyone knows that Sultans are bloated and corrupt and fed grapes and have their toes sucked which is, in fact, the popular image. Baggy pants, eunuchs, harems, all the apparatus of the Lunar state.

What I've done, in fact, is backfitted it. The old explanation (in the Genertela Book) was that they used to be called "X" (we don't know what), and that "Sultan" came in with Sheng Seleris.

That's got a couple of problems. I'll take it right back to the very beginning.

When the glorious Carmanian Empire conquers Dara Happa, they divvy up the conquered lands into Satrapies. In charge of each of these Satrapies is a SATRAP, an appointed governor.

Now, outside the Carmanian Empire, in the east, is the land of Rinliddi. This is on the borders of Pent. The Pentan word for a big strong guy who can kick your head in is SULTAN.

The Red Goddess, as we all know, was reborn as Teelo Norri (little orphan Teelo, the red-haired waif from the streets of Torang who won the hearts and souls of a vast Empire). She spoke Torangese, a nasty local dialect full of Pentan loan-words, and her word for a big strong guy who can kick your head in was "sultan".

So when the Red Goddess, in her mortal life and in scripture, talks about the satraps, she says "sultan". But the real word, the governmental word, is "satrap". So, right at the founding of the Lunar Empire, you get this dichotomy. The priests in the temples talk about "the sultans who rule this land," and "render unto the sultan that which is the sultan's," and all this kind of rubbish. But the official name, in the books of the Empire they've taken over, is "satraps". And then it gets worse.

In the third and fourth Wanes, as everyone knows, the Lunar Empire is overrun by Pentan Horse Nomads, led by Sultan Sheng. And suddenly calling rulers "sultans" becomes official. Pentans don't know what "satrap" means. The guy running the state is now a Sultan. The organization is a Sultanate. If you say "satrap" you have your tongue cut out, which is a bit of bad news.

Then the Empire is refounded by Carmanians and they bring in satrapies again with a vengeance. So at the end of the day, whatever context you're in, you can justifiably use either of the words. The old religious guys might use "sultan" because that's what the Goddess herself would have said, or they might use "satrap" because they hate horse barbarian words. The official organizers might use "satrap" because that's the officious word or they might use "sultan" because that's the religious word. The original word may have been "satrap", which is what they were called before the Goddess came along or "sultan" which is the first thing the Goddess called them or "satrap" which was what the official name was inside the Lunar Empire or "sultan" which is what it was changed to or "satrap" which is what it is now.

I would usually call them "sultans" but that's only because I reserve "satraps" for talking about Carmanian governors. Besides, that's what I grew up with. If I use "satraps" or "satrapies," I have to make a conscious decision to do that. "The Mad Satrap of Tork" just doesn't have the same flavour...

Freely adapted from the rambling transcript of my Cultural Exchange held at RQCon2 in San Francisco, January 1995. Many thanks to Peter Michaels and his assistants for the work involved in producing this, and to Paul Reilly for moral support on the platform.

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