Saturday, November 03, 2007

Structure of a formal Court

Caveat: This article is here to help me get straight some basic ideas for Requiem and hopefully to help with some things in the Camarilla. If that ain't your kind of thing you are welcome to skip this one as you choose.

A formal court is a a serious thing in kindred society. Among creatures of sufficient age, it has all the weight and gravity of it's feudal forebears. To many modern vampires it is about as much fun as a trip to the DMV. A formal court is not something you should see every single game session. Courts give unprecedented access to the Prince and to other powerful members of kindred society. In order to maintain power therefore, courts should only happen periodically. If you only have a court once per quarter, then it is very likely to be a big damn deal instead of duller than hell. I've seen a number of meetings of court that were so.

To creatures who feast on habit and imbibe on ritual. Court is a central pillar of their life in Kindred Society. As such, one would seek to formalize the necessary steps in the pageant.

1) Entrance of the Worthies:
Usually a signal that things are about to get underway. Elysium security, followed by the lesser officers of the city, followed by the Priscii and Primogen, In order of those with least status to most Status. The Seneschal arrives last and announces the entrance of the prince by his full title. Usually by tradition, once the prince enters Court is underway. Once the Prince is seated others may be seated. If there aren't enough chairs, low status people stand. (Barring player injury or pregnancy of course.)

2) The Opening ceremonies:
From place to place these can vary wildly. It largely depends on the nature of your city and the politics therein. For Example: In an invictus city, where the prince has close ties with the Sanctified, The bishop may be called upon to perform a short benediction. There may be some sort of formal welcoming announcement. Or perhaps a some other little ritual or bit of political theater.

3) Recognitions:
Powerful people usually hate surprises. As such, it's very rare for a person to introduce himself at a formal court without having been quizzed extensively by the Seneschal or the Harpy. But oftentimes, a prince might want to ask the new fang in town a question or two of his own.

For players it's a way to introduce the character to the entirety of a city all at once. And maybe even get them into trouble on the first night. If you've created a new character, give some real thought to how you would introduce yourself in that situation.

Recognitions are also a great time to look over a new character with auspex. Normally characters are questioned cursorily about their affiliations. It's good to have the heads of various covenants present and ask the new character to stand with them until court is concluded, thus introducing them if they've not already met. Unaligned vampires are usually asked to stand with their primogen instead. (Assuming they aren't to be detained for additional questioning.)

4) Oaths:
Even in nominally Carthian domains, there is power in the oath sworn publicly. And as such, there is usually respect for such oaths. Naturally the Invictus and the Lancea Sanctum have elevated this to a high art. If your city is the sort of city that recognizes, records or even just pays attention to Oaths of any sort, normally this would be the sort of thing done at a formal court. In an Ordo held city, this might include ceremonies involving becoming Sworn. If nothing else, there ought to be a portion of court set aside for petitioning the Prince to allow the swearing of a public oath.
Even in cities that aren't invictus run, some traditions have carried on. In some places there is an official swearing in for public offices within cities adapted from an old invictus oath:

The Invictus Oath of Office:

(Prince) It is the understanding of this office that certain responsibilities in this domain must be performed by right thinking dedicated kindred interested in the prosperity and the security of this Domain. It is my intent to offer you a specific duty in this domain, commensurate to your abilities and temperament. Will accept this Charge?

(Oath-taker) I, of my own free will and free of coercion, undertake this charge. To safeguard the prosperity and security of this domain. To faithfully perform the duties of my office. To stand in defense of this realm from threats internal and external. To foster the tranquility and serenity of this domain and the peaceable resolution of conflicts both internal and external. And to in all ways act within the purview of my granted office with all the rights and responsibilities thereto.
I freely accept this charge until such time as i am relieved of it.

(Prince) Then rise ennobled and go forth into the domain with my blessing

Just another little bit of theater to spruce it up. Obviously you can adapt this if you have to recruit a brute squad...especially if the old brute squad got ganked. Having each side of the oath on a 3" by 5" card for each party would be a good idea.

Naturally, There will be policy decisions that will be handed down from on high. Such things should be short and to the point. Long rambling anouncements are not easy to focus on, and these are the sort of things that the powerful vampires have decided MUST be focused on. Announcements ought to be handed off to the various Whips for dissemination (I.E. The Whip ought to have a copy of the minutes of formal court for the official mailing list. That way players who couldn't be there aren't left out. Also, useful for reference later.). and are often considered to be fair game for Harpies to share with the harpies of other cities, unless otherwise directed.

Announcement can often include the following:
Declarations of changes in territory
Clan/ or covenant meetings or other events coming up.
Opening or declaring territories off limits.
Information requests from the seneschal's or the Princes office.
Appointments to offices
Opening of new offices or a request to fill a vacated office.

Usually, at the end of Announcements, the seneschal declares the end of discussion of Old Business. Anything handled during the first half of Court, that is left unfinished is therefore tabled until next formal court.

Smart Princes ration their time very carefully. It is very easy, if you're an informal sort of prince, to get neck deep in the problems of the realm. This is doubly problematical if you have trouble delegating. Believe me. I know. Therefore, smart prince sometimes make it a habit to require a boon of some size to speak with them. You always have the option of leaning on your primogen or sucking up to the seneschal or something like that, but there is one element of court that enables you to cut through the intermediaries.

During the Begining of New Business, a Prince will ask if there is anyone present who wishes to make a request of the city.
This can be as simple as an informal arrangement between coterie mates over feeding rights being made public, or as complex as a request to sire a childer. A prince may grant or deny the request on the spot or he may wish to discuss the matter with the principal at further length. At which point, by tradition the Seneschal must schedule a private meeting within the next turn of the moon.

As i've said often, a well run Larp is like a soap opera, eventually, all the secrets have to come out. And at formal court, this is where they often come spilling out. Every bad hunt test. Every time someone fed sloppy in a rivals domain. Every scrap of internecine conflict that can be played out on the political stage ought to come out here and if you don't have at least two kindred throwing chops for a test of wills, then you're probably doing it wrong. If nothing else, it gives a kindred an opportunity for a kindred to put up his hand and say, "Um...Yeah. It turns out that my patch of territory is lousy with Belial's Brood...Umm. Could i get some fucking help?"
When a prince announces that he is ready to hear grievances, The seneschal, the harpy, the Keeper of Elysium, the Sheriff and the Hound should all wake up and look alive. It's probable that each of them will be busy.

Summary Judgement:
This is the formal trial and sentencing of an accused Kindred. Not every formal court will have one of these of course, and this part of the evening is often very tense for the Kindred involved. It is VERY rare for a problem brought up in grievance to be ruled on the same night. In fact, many times, when a Kindred is brought to trial, he has already been thoroughly questioned (or vigorously tortured) and his story has been checked out. Often, Summary Judgement is a matter of sentencing only. On occasion, a kindred finds himself being defended from charges. but a full blown trial is usually very rare.

Closing ceremonies:
Often this element is very quick, the prince in question will have a list of people he desires to see after formal court, Again, the local ecclesiastical authority may be asked to lead a prayer or ritual and then the prince leaves. Often the other members of the court stay behind and press the flesh a bit. The seneschal schedules meetings and brings people to the prince one at a time.


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