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Writing Institutions

Heyman Dullaert. A trompe l'oeil with plumes in an ink bottle, a letter, a seal stamp, a delft pot and a bottle, arranged upon a wooden shelf. Oil on Panel Writing Institutions
Heyman Dullaert. A trompe l’oeil with plumes in an ink bottle, a letter, a seal stamp, a delft pot and a bottle, arranged upon a wooden shelf. Oil on Panel 

Ink & Quill

Author Thomas Knauss

Series Dragonwing Games/Bastion Press

Publish date 2002


In many primitive, sedentary societies, churches represent the only bastions of education and knowledge. Tucked away within the church’s inner recesses, scribes tirelessly labor in the building’s scriptorium, painstakingly transcribing its collection of books. Despite the endless reproduction of these valuable texts, most churches covetously hoard their stores of knowledge, unwilling to share them even with their congregations. In fact, many clergymen consider an illiterate and uneducated populace a blessing. Unable to intellectually challenge the church’s dogmas and supremacy, the citizenry unquestioningly accepts the societal values imposed by its clerics. Because of the strict limitations placed on individual creativity, scribes are the only writers that emerge from these churches.

In more sophisticated, cosmopolitan societies, churches play a more active role in the education and enlightenment of their congregations. Although censorship still exists, the church provides free elementary education to all children and shares some of its knowledge with its constituents. While these churches vigorously denounce controversial ideas, their proponents are graciously encouraged to rejoin their group, gather than face violent persecution. And although scribes and scholars are still the most prevalent groups of writers in these churches, some playwrights and musical composers specializing in morality plays and hymns also exist amidst their ranks.

Of course, the church’s ultimate outlook depends entirely upon its patron deity. The clergy of an evil god of chaos and murder undoubtedly prefers ignorant, fanatical followers, while a good deity of magic assuredly demands educated and articulate devotees. Lawful deities train and retain some of their clerics as barristers, promulgating the church’s dogmas and doctrines through legal authority.


Often secluded from the outside world, monasteries provide an unspoiled sanctuary of contemplation and reflection. Despite the monastery’s emphasis on inner peace, regimentation and discipline abound within its fortified walls. Similar to a church, monasteries also employ scribes, charging them with the task of duplicating the monastery’s vast collection of documents. Unlike churches though, monasteries strongly encourage individual creativity and greatly admire brazen intellects, provided that their proponents curtail their proliferation outside of the monastery’s walls. Monasteries jealously guard their intellectual secrets, sharing their knowledge with only a handful of privileged individuals.

Despite its rigorous and cloistered lifestyle, a few writing styles flourish within its confines. Scribes, accustomed to its harsh and rigid conditions, comprise much of its ranks. Scholars also thrive, gleefully immersing themselves in its endless volumes of books and tomes. Because of their highly suspicious nature, some monasteries employ the services of cryptographers; document experts specifically trained to detect forgeries. Many of its residents view the monastery as an oasis of enlightenment in a dark desert of ignorance.


Devoid of the religious dogmas of churches and the regimentation of monasteries, universities provide a fertile foundation for the budding intellects of its adolescent pupils. Despite their sprawling size and virtual self-sufficiency, they are usually located within or on the outskirts of large, cosmopolitan cities, relying heavily on the support of its infrastructure as well as its population for prospective students. Because of its intricate ties to the community, universities and city governments are often interconnected; a number of the same individuals hold offices with both entities. The relationship proves lucrative for both parties.

Through the generosity of wealthy alumni and steep tuition fees, universities amass substantial libraries rivaling those of their institutional counterparts. Naturally, their exorbitant costs limit enrollment to only the wealthiest and brightest students. The universities reciprocate by attracting rich merchants and their families into the city, infusing a steady stream of cash into the local economy.

As an income generating business, universities seek to include as many diverse disciplines as possible without lowering their high standards of admission. For this reason, universities provide extensive programs in a number of liberal arts including poetry, literature, music and social sciences. Scholars comprise most of the university’s general faculty and administrative positions, while renowned artists teach the specialized fields. Because of their unwillingness to lose revenue, universities avoid confrontations with students regarding creativity issues. They reserve such challenges only for the most violent and politically insensitive ideologies, preferring to handle such matters with the utmost discretion and secrecy.

Universities are the havens of barristers, scholars and the patrons of lyrical poets, musical composers and playwrights. Even after graduating, many of these individuals return to their alma mater, engaging in the open and unbiased exchange of fresh ideas and beliefs with their former instructors and classmates.


Established for the purpose of resolving legal disputes, courts are the only institution controlled directly by the government. As an instrument of the government, courts exert and maintain their authority over the citizens through the creation, enactment, implementation and application of law. Governed by volumes of strict regulations, courts perform their duties based upon an intricate set of rules, often befuddling ordinary citizens unaccustomed to its unique jargon and strict protocol. Consistent with its approach towards its proceedings, courts strictly monitor rulings, and generate many briefs and memos. Frivolous and baseless legal arguments perpetrated by any party, especially barristers, result in the swift censure of its proponent. Courts permanently or temporarily prohibit the barrister from practicing law, while ordinary citizens expounding these ridiculous legal challenges face hefty fines and occasionally incarceration.

Despite the rigidity of this institution, masterful and innovative pieces of legislation and legal thought continuously stream through its hallowed halls. Some legal interpretations presented within its confines prove so compelling that they establish new precedents in
the implementation and application of various laws. Courts largely remain the domain of barristers, although a handful of scholars and scribes occasionally dabble in its proceedings.


Theaters occupy a unique niche in the writing community as a hybrid linking the conventional and the unconventional. Although a fully functioning business entity, theaters lack the administrative support inherent in traditional institutions. Instead, groups of actors known as companies operate and manage the theater’s financial affairs while also writing and performing its repertoire of plays. Despite its autonomy, many local governments carefully scrutinize the plays’ content, immediately censoring politically or morally inflammatory content. In the most
successful theaters, one company produces all of the theater’s annual productions, however the industry’s economic volatility often mandates several companies mutually sharing its costs and proceeds. Fortunately for the genre’s admirers, this competitive relationship between rival companies spurs the competitive juices of its playwrights, who constantly strive to supersede their colleagues’ literary triumphs. The system’s most distinguished playwrights eventually graduate from the theater system and obtain permanent positions in royal courts and on wealthy citizen’s estates. Bereft of the necessity of commercial success, these playwrights pen literature’s darkest and most provocative character studies. Theaters are the exclusive domain of playwrights.

Concert Halls

Unlike theaters, concert halls are predominantly owned and operated by wealthy benefactors usually in loose affiliation with the local or regional governments. Although relieved of the financial responsibilities of ownership, musical composers encounter a number of unique hurdles. Its relationship with government officials ensures some regulatory oversight of its musical content. However, its primary obstacle
is its proprietors’ lack of musical expertise and appreciation. Performances are frequently obtained through bribery, flattery and nepotism rather than artistic merit. Intrigues abound behind the gilded walls of the concert hall, as inept and less talented composers benefiting from this system repeatedly stifle the efforts of more prodigious composers to acquire commissions. Despite its obvious shortcomings, perseverance and dedication eventually reward intrepid composers whose astounding works capture the public’s forlorn imaginations. In many instances, the formulaic musical pieces composed by its owners’ relatives and sycophants fade from collective memory, replaced by the captivating melodies of its greatest talents. Concert halls are the exclusive domains of musical composers, especially practitioners of the operatic form.

Writing Groups

On the other hand, the disorganized, bohemian gatherings of writers spawn a myriad of stimulating and innovative new ideas. These groups lampoon the foibles of traditional convention, and instead explore untapped nuances of language and sound. While the quality of work produced usually exceeds that of their organized counterparts, the quantity remains sorely lacking.

Undisciplined and often without direction, few of their conceptual experiments capture enough of their attention to sustain them to fruition. Many ideas wither in the planning stages, unable to stir their author’s creativity beyond conception. Of course exceptions exist, and the intrepid individuals that persevere through the morass of inaction achieve artistic immortality, penning some of civilization’s greatest literary
and musical masterpieces.

Poetic Societies

Meeting primarily in large, cosmopolitan cities, poetic societies afford aspiring poets an outstanding opportunity to acquire acclaim among their fellow poets as well as hone their developing craft. Usually founded by an established poet or circle of poets, these informal gatherings include esoteric debates on poetic devices and recitations of its members’ newest poems. Criticism flows freely from its members, although
senior poets temper offensive and defamatory remarks. Devoid of any formal membership requirements, societies experience significant turnaround as poets enter and leave the society in rapid, unabated succession. Despite the continuous turmoil, a solid core of dedicated poets ensures its continued survival.


Eclectic bands of wandering entertainers, troubadours travel a well-worn circuit of taverns, lavish homes and royal courts. Their ranks primarily include lyrical poets and musical composers as well as the occasional playwright and, of course, bards. Although their nomadic lifestyle impinges significantly on their creative output, their diverse travels expose them to new literary and musical styles unknown to sedentary performers. Rarely specialized in one artistic discipline, many troubadours possess a diverse background of literary and musical talents rarely found in their urban counterparts. Unfortunately for many, the constant turmoil of life on the road eventually impacts their health and stamina, forcing their premature retirement.

Nomadic Societies

Only recently emerging from the oral tradition, nomadic societies boast the most substantial populations of warrior poets. Refining and transcribing epic poems bequeathed from past generations, warrior poets informally gather, debating the nuances of words and phrases translated from ancient forms of their native language. As a result of the anonymous authorship of most ancient epic poems, warrior poets care little about receiving credit for their work, freely exchanging and borrowing lines and even entire passages from another poet’s creation. Although unburdened by the stigma of plagiarism, the subject matter and rhyme scheme closely adhere to a standard formula, effectively limiting their creative expression.

Thieves Guilds

Operating in the shadowy and nefarious world of criminal enterprise, guilds demand the services of skilled cryptographers to communicate with field operatives and pen fraudulent documents. Their loosely connected infrastructure depends upon secrecy for its very survival. To this end, cryptographers play a critical role in the development of these guilds, keeping their membership informed without compromising their identity. In an effort to combat these organizations, governments also employ cryptographers, hoping to decipher their codes and arrest their members.

These faceless adversaries covertly duel one another, desperately seeking the necessary pieces to unravel the opponent’s mysterious codes. These incessant struggles precipitate the creation of even more complex encryption methods. In more sophisticated cultures, guilds also employ a small staff of barristers to defend its members during criminal proceedings. Initially recruited from its own ranks, these legal practitioners ply their trade exclusively for their guild, while still participating in its criminal enterprises.

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