The Chequered Field
"You know what they call hungover dockworkers in Selenia? The morning shift." -Overheard in Heathe's Bay
Selenia began life as a resort for those nobles of the content of Northern Ghast who had grown tired of the bleak climate and barren landscape of their own kingdoms. It only truly became a state after a number of riots & revolutions swept through Ghast as a result of the Pantheistic Schism. Hundreds of nobles and their retinues became stranded, unable to return to their ancestral estates. Already equipped with an infrastructure for providing decadent luxuries to its patrons, and seeing a large portion of its clientele under threat of losing their entire fortune, the canny business-people behind the resort devised a plan: The nobles and their retinues would become the first House of Lords, and would begin to build a powerful city state from surrounding settlements and towns. In return, the business-men became the first of the mercantile gentry – Nobles not by virtue of their land or title, but by virtue of buying a portion of the ownership of noble houses. In a way, they are Lords by virtue of the stock market.
Selenia is ruled by a body known as the House of Lords, which is made up of the nobles – both landed gentry and mercantile gentry. The House of Lords votes on legislation and enforce their rulings through the appointment of Civic Chevaliers – Lords who are elected by their peers to become the executors of the House’s decrees.
Most of Selenia’s global political power stems, as it always has, from its role as a resort for nobility from all over the world. Selenian balls are so grand and decadent that just attending one is a huge status symbol, even for foreign nobility. Crafty Selenian nobles make a habit of getting other nations to bankroll huge portions of festivals (which can last for a full week surrounding the actual holiday) by promising to advertise them as the patron of the event, and by providing a useful neutral ground for important summits and diets.
Selenia's capital is on the coast and so it has put more focus on its Navy than most of the City States, though even so it would struggle to put up a fight against the more technologically advanced Ravenspire navy, or the sheer brute force of the old kingdoms on Ghast. The naval battles it's won have been due to skilled sailors who are both agile and clever – admirals who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by suddenly showing up where the enemy least expected them. They have no standing army, but all members of the House of Lords are expected to retain a personal militia. Most nobles opt for mercenary contracts over traditional levies, though there is no legislation favoring one over the other.
The powerful grip held on the law by the wealthy means that Selenia has one of the worst disparities of wealth anywhere in the world. The poor are typically kept out of the cities, but life in the rural areas of Selenia is bleak and unproductive. The low cost of land means that many of the poor of surrounding countries migrate to Selenia hoping to eke out a meager existence, but many move on as soon as they have any money, since there is very little hope of upward mobility in Selenia. Only the artists and the bards tend to stay for any amount of time. The saying goes, “It is better to be a Beggared Bard in Selenia, than a wealthy Fool in Ravenspire”; And there is an element of truth to that – creative individuals in other parts of Colra frequently struggle to gain patronage, whereas there is no shortage of opportunity to make a living off your creativity in Selenia, even if you will probably never become wealthy from it.
Nevertheless, the lack of middle-class workers, especially farmers, is felt in the economy. Since true Feudalism never existing in Selenia, there are no serfs bound to work the land consistently. As a result, Selenia ships in a higher percentage of its total food consumed than any other country, and no-one is quite sure how it remains solvent considering how little it exports and how much it imports in order to keep its decadent lifestyle.
Selenia is often called the Kingdom of Virtuous Vice. The country has a rich heritage of noble philosophs who wrote extensive literature on the “Morality of Hedonism”. These treatises almost all boil down to one concept — because adherence to any tenant of faith, good or evil, comes with its own rewards, the only universal path all people ought to pursue is pleasure.
Often when people think of the “Morality of Hedonism”, they think of bawdyhouses, courtesans, drugs, alcohol, and parties – but while those things are deeply valued by the people of Selenia, they also are attracted to many things both beautiful and enriching. They have massive universities dedicated to the arts, and even commoners actively participate in the art scene. Commoners, even the very poor, are not excluded: All art project are required by law to have at least one night provided free to the public, with the tickets chosen by lottery. Art companies usually use this as a dress rehearsal, which means most important art critics aren't actually nobles, but commoners, because they are the ones which will ultimately convince paying customers to see the play later in the week.
While their pursuit of pleasure has led them to a society which is more artistic, sexually open and accepting of all, it also has a dark side. Because individual pleasure is the guiding principle of the culture, many (if not most) come to believe that their prerogative ought to be to pursue pleasure regardless of how others may be affected. Sexual abuse and domestic abuse are rife, and although violent crime is rare, grifting, fraud, theft and embezzlement are all very common.
Many would be tempted to call Selenians lazy; but in reality, Selenian culture values a strong separation between work and play. During work, sexual characteristics and attractiveness are downplayed by wearing muted chest-binders made of sturdy cotton and tied a cross up around the neck and down behind the small of the back. Hangovers are expected and frequent, but not being able to handle a hangover or complaining about it is seen as a sign of someone being rude or even weak. Selenians are also strongly encouraged not to show up to work drunk or high. Travellers should not be surprised, then, that the best hangover cures and breath mints come from Selenia.
The buildings in Selenia are inspired by Elven Architecture – graceful, organic lines which are reminiscent of growing trees. Builders in Selenia primarily use Linderwood – a blonde, medium-hardness wood which grows fast and has responded well to wide-scale orchard production in the southern part of the country. Because of how easy it is to work, even poor people tend to have elaborate carvings done on lintels and support – often done in their spare time using a pocket knife or whittling knife. For walls, they use a white plaster made from chalk, which easily accepts (and loses) color, even after it has been applied. The overall impression the city gives, then, is this rapidly shifting place where new carvings and colors can be found in a neighborhood daily.