I could have been a countess, did you know that? I dated a man in the Imperial Court for a couple months. It was all hush, hush, and he never told me his full name. I had to find out by sneaking a look at one of his correspondences while he was in the bath: Feng Xiao Lu-Wen, 3rd Duke of Hong. Imagine my surprise when I found out he was a duke. Why . . . that’s just below the Emperor! Unfortunately, I also found out he was sleeping with seven other women in that letter.

-Heather Smith, barmaid from the Green Coast

Zho is one of the chief members of the Populo Federation. Their state played a key role in the federation’s victory over the Radiant Empire, supplying invaluable technology and firepower to drive the kavi off Magna Tellus. The state is currently ruled by the Shang family, their dynasty being the longest lasting in Zho’s history—unbroken since 75 FA.

Their government is unique in that they are a technocratic monarchy. Although the nobility of the Imperial Court rule, these same nobles only stay in power by proving themselves worthy through extensive research and technological advancements. This technological leaning has fostered incredible breakthroughs, but has also created a court rife with political dealings and backstabbing, where research is reduced to bargaining tools susceptible to the whims of an angry Duchess or greedy Earl.

Imperial Titles Sorted by Importance

Imperial Title Children’s Courtesy Title
Emperor & Empress Prince & Princess
Duke & Duchess Lord & Lady
Marquess & Marchioness Lord & Lady
Earl & Countess Honorable
Viscount & Viscountess Honorable
Baron & Baroness Honorable

Each family has only one true title-bearer, but the spouse and children of that person are given courtesy titles. A Duchess’s husband should still be addressed as Duke and their children Lords or Ladies.

Laws of Succession

When a title-bearer dies, their title passes to their spouse. If the Tian Court deems that individual unworthy of holding the title, the children are then assessed. If none of the children pass the Tian Court’s judgement, then that family loses claim to the title completely. Such cases usually mean ruin for a family as they quickly find themselves ostracized from other members of the Zholese Imperial Court—both politically and financially.

When a noble title is left without a successor, it is conferred to another family appointed by the Tian Court; they usually pick the most eligible family from a pool of nobles directly under that title’s rank. A marquess or marchioness is selected to replace a duke, a viscount or viscountess is selected to replace an earl, etc.

Naming Conventions of the Imperial Court

A member of the Imperial Court’s full title is formatted as follows:

First Name Middle Name(s), *Ordinal Title of Surname

Bao Guo, 1st Earl of Wong

*An ordinal is only given to true-title bearers.

When addressing nobility, it is socially acceptable to address them using only their title and first name. Using the example from above, one could simple say, “Earl Bao.”

Tian Court

The Tian Court is comprised of nine arbiters, with one elder arbiter that acts as their leader. While their scope of responsibilities can be considered limited, their power over Zho cannot be understated. Many would argue they are the invisible ruling hand behind the nobility, since their decisions alone decide which families rise and fall in Zho.

As previously stated, when succession is in question, the Tian Court solely decides if an heir is worthy of inheriting a title. They come to their decision based on scientific merits achieved by the individual, but in rare instances have been known to reject an heir for other reasons. The disproportionate importance on technology and science in determining title inheritance has created a rigorous culture of education among the noble families. Many families have fallen because a prospective heir was deemed “too stupid”.

Not having a worthy heir, however, is not the only way to lose a title. The Tian Court has the power to impeach nobles, stripping them—and potentially their whole family—of the right to bear a true-title. Such instances usually occur under cases of gross misconduct or illegal activities. It’s not uncommon for aspiring nobles to be caught sabotaging other families and being subsequently punished by the Tian Court.