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23 July 2013 @ 08:59 am
AU World Building Groups: The 12 Noble Houses of the Fire Nation  
BACKGROUND

The book, "The Lost Scrolls: Fire", tells the story of the Fire Sages, how they were the Fire Nation's governing council until the Fire Lord (or head sage), so called that because he was the most powerful firebender and the most spiritually connected to fire, broke from them and took the rulership with him. The sages we see in Winter Solstice, Part 2, The Avatar And the Fire Lord, and the series finale are a dying breed, relics of an earlier time, who's only purpose now is to babysit Roku's temple and feed the Fire Lord information about the Avatar, or advise the Fire Lord in spiritual matters (and guard the secrets held in the Dragon Bone catacombs, apparently).

Everything under the cut has been manufactured as part of my own world-building for an AU fic.



I decided that, originally, the council would have thirteen sages. No reason, I just like the number thirteen. The head sage (the Fire Lord) had produced five powerful firebenders and decided it was time for his family of prodigious firebenders to take control of the council and declare themselves the supreme rulers of the Fire Nation. The head sage was a ruthless man who had raised ruthless children. The other sages were completely unprepared for their brutality. So his family's claim went largely unchallenged. It helped that some of the sages were promised incentives for not challenging him. And so the modern Fire Nation and the 12 Houses were born.

The first ruling Fire Lord ranked the other twelve sages based on their value to him. So the #2 sage was more powerful and influencial then #3, and so on, because the Fire Lord "said so". #12 was the least valuable / had the least to offer the Fire Lord. #13 was killed off along with his entire bloodline because he insolently dared to challenge the Fire Lord's claim of rulership.

The Fire Lord declared his family the 1st House, and ordered that the rulership of the Fire Nation be passed down exclusively through his descendants since they would always be the strongest firebenders and have earned the "divine right to rule" for this very reason.  Every other sage was declared Head of Household for their respective families and given titles like Sage of the 2nd House, Sage of the 3rd House, and so on.. This was to make the "pecking order" clear: These sages were no longer equals. This also created a nobility more to his liking by trumping the previous nobility of land owners by making them a lower class than his elite sage team of insanely skilled Firebenders.

The eleven sages were ordered to advise and serve the Fire Lord as his "cabinet" or face certain consequences. Over the centuries, the Fire Lords had chiseled away at their cabinet's power and influence, abolishing the cabinet altogether and bringing in advisers outside of the 12 Houses to advise them as they saw fit. Commoners like Piandao and Shinu were allowed to hold seats in the Fire Lord's war room and were welcome at Court, honors which, just a few decades earlier, were only reserved for the nobility.

As the prestige of being a Fire Sage tarnished, and their power dwindled, all twelve Houses stopped supporting members who would want to follow that path. If one aspired to become a Fire Sage, fine, but being a Fire Sage did nothing to advance that House in any meaningful way, so one would be wasting their time. Ironically, in Aang's time, none of the current Fire Sages can trace their lineages back to any of the noble houses.

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THE FIVE MOST POWERFUL HOUSES

Each of the 12 Houses work to distinguish themselves from the other Houses. It's all about profile and getting noticed and finding a niche that your family can control.

The 1st House is the Fire Lord's House. They distinguish themselves by being the ruling family. They are a small House, having only four members: Ozai, Iroh, Zuko, and Azula. The Fire Sages and advisers have encouraged both Ozai and Iroh to remarry and grow their House by having many more children. This is especially true for Ozai since he is the Fire Lord and also still quite young. but Ozai has grown to despise the idea of remarrying because his first marriage was horrible. Ursa has made him hate and mistrust women which is why he has been molding Azula in his own image. Iroh has cut all ties from Ozai and Azula and hopes the 1st House collapses under the weight of it's own hubris now that Zuko has been banished from it.

The 2nd House distinguishes itself through it's political practices. They are the second largest house, comprised of nearly four hundred members. The 2nd Matriarch runs the House like a mafia Don. They are suspected to be involved in organized crime, and their brutality is legendary. They routinely challenge people to agni kais over fairly trivial matters. But their public profile shows them as being in loyal service to the Fire Lord at the highest levels of government -- judges, governors, mayors, one of Ozai's chief advisers, and so on... Many feel that they are also the Fire Lord's private enforces since this house boasts many skilled mercenaries.

The 3rd House is a House of soldiers, police officers, and martial fighting / bending instructors. They are descendants of the 3rd Sage and his wife, a warrior from an ancient clan of warrior women who protected the motherland from potential invaders during ancient times when pirates would attack their shores, before they had a modern navy. This House is comprised of some of the greatest martial masters in the entire history of the Fire Nation. Jeong Jeong was one of the 3rd Patriarch's many sons before he deserted. Many of its current members have trained with swords and spears under great swordmasters like Piandao, and many Yuyan archers have come out of this house. They distinguish themselves with their dedication to preserving the ancient traditions, not an easy task when the Fire Lord's House has been trying to destroy those very traditions and rewrite the history books. Of the 5 most powerful Houses, they are the most stable, the least political, and the most hard-working. They are also loved by many commoners for their selfless years of service in the military and domestic forces where they have served alongside commoners with honorable distinctions. They are the largest of the noble houses, boasting a clan of more than a thousand strong, and they are the backbone of the Fire Nation's forces, making up nearly ten percent of all high-ranking naval and army personnel.

The 4th House distinguishes itself through it's civil service. They are a House of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, educators, archivists, philosophers, historians.. They run the libraries, the hospitals, and the universities. They control the "education" system--what gets taught, and what doesn't--with the Fire Lord's approval, of course.

The 5th House is distinguished by it's generations of philanthropy. While all the noble Houses have charities they maintain, the 5th House has turned philanthropy into an art form. The 5th House does a lot of "business" with the 3rd and 4th Houses, donating wings to hospitals, libraries, museums, and universities, as well as making sure poor children have access to scrolls and books, and backing charities that give aid to families of fallen soldiers and police officers. Houses 3, 4, and 5 have mostly good working relationships with one another.

Of course, there are exceptions. Lawyers have come out of the 3rd House, while the 5th House has its share of soldiers and martial arts masters. Not everyone from the 2nd House is a gangster, and the 4th House has a handful of cut throat politicians. But the members of each House usually stick to what they've been raised with because that's all most of them have ever known.

I haven't figured out how the other seven Houses distinguish themselves. Ideas and criticisms are welcome.
 
 
 
loopy777loopy777 on July 23rd, 2013 11:23 pm (UTC)
Interesting backstory. The things that most surprised me were:

  • The Fire Lord didn't use an Agni Kai to solidify his coup against the other sages.

  • The sages started off married. (Granted, there's no reason they couldn't be according to the cartoon, but the temple on Roku's island looks like a temple inhabited by just a handful of old men.)

  • Piandao being a mainstream figure for a time. (If I ever actually publish 100 Men, I can get my own take out there, but my beta said what I have is kind of junky and I'm not sure I want to rewrite so much.)

I was also surprised that the existing noble class allowed a new one to be put in place over them, but I'm thinking that's more of an opportunity. Either you can use the 2nd House (but they seem kind of urban in nature) or give the specialty to one of the unspecified houses, but either way one of the houses could be responsible for managing the landowner class. The only real issue is how to implement it without giving too much power to that House, that they could consolidate the landowners against the Fire Lord. Perhaps make that House the administrators of construction in the Fire Nation, so that the members are more concerned with snatching land away from the landowners for their projects, thus diverting animosity away from the Fire Lord.
SCplushulala on July 24th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC)
The Fire Lord didn't use an Agni Kai to solidify his coup against the other sages.

That's how #13 got killed. :b It was kind of a sad fight since the Fire Lord was so much more powerful. The other sages were like, "Oh snap, Son!" -_-; (Maybe it was the first such Agni Kai?) And the kids killed the family and made sure everyone knew about it.

I was actually toying around with the idea that the whole Agni Kai thing was something that didn't catch on until later.

The sages started off married. (Granted, there's no reason they couldn't be according to the cartoon, but the temple on Roku's island looks like a temple inhabited by just a handful of old men.)

Escape From the Spirit World says that Shyu was Fire Sage Kaja's grandson. Kaja was the Sage who trained Roku at the temple.

The book says the sages we see at the temple were there to guard the sanctuary and feed the Fire Lord information about the Avatar. I think it was always assumed that, when the Avatar finally surfaced, that person would go to the temple to contact Roku, and those sages were probably forced to stay their 24/7 to wait for him.

Piandao being a mainstream figure for a time. (If I ever actually publish 100 Men, I can get my own take out there, but my beta said what I have is kind of junky and I'm not sure I want to rewrite so much.)

I imagine anyone with a title like The Greatest Swordmaster and Swordmaker in Fire Nation History would be a household name. That title they gave him implies that he's a living legend, and probably got to rub elbows with a lot of fancy people.

If you never finish 100 Men, I should at least like to read a basic outline and the notes for it. I've been very patient..

I was also surprised that the existing noble class allowed a new one to be put in place over them, but I'm thinking that's more of an opportunity. Either you can use the 2nd House (but they seem kind of urban in nature) or give the specialty to one of the unspecified houses, but either way one of the houses could be responsible for managing the landowner class. The only real issue is how to implement it without giving too much power to that House, that they could consolidate the landowners against the Fire Lord. Perhaps make that House the administrators of construction in the Fire Nation, so that the members are more concerned with snatching land away from the landowners for their projects, thus diverting animosity away from the Fire Lord.

When the sages were "installed" as the new upper-class, the other nobles didn't really lose anything. When one considers the other eleven sages were already ruling over everybody else as equals to the head sage before he took control of the place, most people didn't really see it as being that much different. They were all doing what they did before with the understanding that the Fire Lord had final "veto" power over them instead of them having equal say in public policy. It was a downgrade for them while the lesser nobles still got to keep all their stuff and continue with their business. The only people who really got curb stomped were the sages because they feared for their families if they tried to retaliate but also such an action could start a civil war. So they felt they had to suck it up.

Haven't worked out the details on the Houses, to be honest.
loopy777loopy777 on July 24th, 2013 01:57 am (UTC)
Ah, I forgot the Shyu was a professional descendant. Good catch.

Fair point about the landowners already being 'second class' nobles, but if you wanted, you could probably play on their pride at being left out of the reorganization. It still strikes me that the Houses might have taken some power from the landowners (like there used to be individually administrated militias, and then a unified military is created that is under the strong influence of a House) but it ultimately comes down to whether you want to play it that way. I'm a fan of political thrillers, myself, but I admit they're not for everyone.
SCplushulala on July 24th, 2013 11:14 am (UTC)
Fair point about the landowners already being 'second class' nobles, but if you wanted, you could probably play on their pride at being left out of the reorganization

So..the land owners can be put into three main groups:

The first group is the group you're describing. They care because they are now a 3rd class. These are the problematic landowners because they would try to raise their private armies to depose the Fire Lord.

The second group is the "We Don't Care And Don't Go Upsetting That Guy" group. They're fine with it because they get to keep their stuff and they don't want to make trouble for themselves.

The third group is a group of nobles who believe there should only be one ruler because the gridlock often caused when there were thirteen people fighting over public policy was annoying most of the time and completely unproductive. So if one person can rule with a measure of pragmatism, then they were okay with it. This group supports the Fire Lord and spends a lot of time battling with the first disgruntled group. The second group will jump in whenever it suits them, taking sides to gain an advantage.

It's pretty easy for the Fire Lord and the sages to set these groups against each other which is what they do so they'll be preoccupied with fighting amongst themselves to be any real long-term threat. Plus, the second and third groups suck up to the Fire Lord and offer up their resources and armies to help him in the hopes it will advance them. It ends up being the Disgruntled Nobles vs. Everyone Who Has Something To Gain By Allying Themselves With the Fire Lord.

It still strikes me that the Houses might have taken some power from the landowners (like there used to be individually administrated militias, and then a unified military is created that is under the strong influence of a House)

It's important to understand that the original sages were not violent or overly-ambitious or corrupt which is why they were so shocked when the Fire Lord took control in such a violent manner and that he had raised his children to be violent. The original sages will not cheat or steal from others. It's like how Aang won't kill someone. This is morally repugnant to them and contrary to their beliefs, and is in direct conflict with their sagely duties. If they were to start acting like the Fire Lord then they would be no better than the Fire Lord.

Plus the sages are counting on two things: They are counting on a spiritual beatdown in the form of something catastrophic so the Fire Lord will get his comeuppance from the spirits (which is a thing that can and does happen to people), and they're hoping that the Avatar will eventually intervene...as soon as he or she masters all those pesky elements and does that whole Avatar training thing. They're willing to be patient because they are absolutely certain one of these two things will happen.

But yes, over time, the Houses have taken from the land owners, but they've always pretty much absorbed the families of the land owners by marrying them into their Houses. In Aang's time, most of the current land owners are somehow associated with the Houses through marriages. Telling the kids that some of them would marry down a class was a way to ensure the lower class wouldn't attack their House since there own people were married into it. Also, it was basically a way to bribe people to get them to go away. "Look, if I let your son marry my daughter and give him a fat dowry, will you kindly go away and never come back?" type of thing.

but it ultimately comes down to whether you want to play it that way. I'm a fan of political thrillers, myself, but I admit they're not for everyone.

I would probably never try to write this as an actual story--too many players, too much complexity. Writing a good political thriller requires a level of aptitude I don't possess and they are exactly the kind of thing you do not want to get wrong. Plus, this really is backstory for the families as we see them in Aang's time. I'm building this world as a way to keep track of all my ideas. Plus, it's just fun to write this stuff out.
loopy777loopy777 on July 24th, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
Ah, that paints a much clearer view of the landowners. Thanks. Yeah, I can see why they wouldn't be a big factor, then.

And it is indeed fun to do this kind of worldbuilding. I used to just create fantasy and sci-fi worlds, with economies as functional as I could make them, with the vague idea of either writing stories based on the stuff or setting an RPG campaign in them. Never did either with any of them, but it's still something I like to dabble with when I have the time.
SCplushulala on July 25th, 2013 01:57 am (UTC)
Ah, that paints a much clearer view of the landowners. Thanks. Yeah, I can see why they wouldn't be a big factor, then.

You're welcome.

And it is indeed fun to do this kind of worldbuilding. I used to just create fantasy and sci-fi worlds, with economies as functional as I could make them, with the vague idea of either writing stories based on the stuff or setting an RPG campaign in them. Never did either with any of them, but it's still something I like to dabble with when I have the time.

I think I like world-building more than I like writing the stories.