Setting: Aztec Empire Inspiration

Let’s continue our series on using real-world historical cultures as the basis for a setting. This time, we’ll take a look at the Aztec Empire of South America. The Aztec Empire is an interesting culture in that it represents a relatively small slice of a much larger, more diverse culture. Even better, it’s a culture that still has a strong sense of mystery surrounding it given interactions with Europeans explorers (which led to their destruction).
As we’ve done previously, we’re going to pull out the attributes that we want to use as the foundation for our own setting (we’ll go back to a fantasy setting for this one, but you could adjust for any genre).
  • Divine Right – Leaders in the Aztec Empire were seen as representatives of the gods at both the national and local level. This had several implications, but we’ll use two in specific: acts against leaders are an act against the natural order (since they’re the representatives of the gods) and leadership was passed on through heredity.
  • Hegemony – The Aztec Empire essentially ruled through hegemonic influence on it’s provinces. While laws and military issues were dictated to all, other issues were left to the discretion of the local leaders. The primary requirement being the payment of tribute to the central empire on a bi-annual basis.
  • Legal Structure – The Aztec Empire had a tiered legal structure where judges at the local, market level could be appealed to a supreme court. From that level, they could escalate to appellate courts within the capital, Tenochtitlan.
  • Cultural Diversity – The Aztec Empire was actually founded by three different nations (Mexico-Technoctitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan) and is sometimes referred to as the Triple Alliance. The end result was a nation that embraced cultures as long as they abided by the laws and practices of the larger nation. This included the incorporation of many religious practices, forming a large, polytheistic practice.
  • Imperial Cult – While many religions were allowed, there was an imperial cult focused on a single deity. While other religions continued after incorporation into the empire, they integrated worship of the imperial cult into their practice.
So with these in mind, we’ll start building out our new setting. This setting will be the starting area for a campaign and will represent the dominant political entity in the setting. I’m going to try to avoid the “Aztec-inspired warmongers” trope as it’s a bit tired (though not entirely unjustified) in favor of doing something a bit different.
So what are the defining characteristics of our setting?
  • Broad, Ethnically Diverse Empire – Our empire is going to cover most of the land mass on the world. They will be the dominant power, consisting of several nations owing fealty. Each nation will have it’s own cultural distinctiveness, but will incorporate some religious practice of the empire (worship of the Imperial God in addition to any local deities).
  • Incarnate Leadership – The regional and imperial leaders of our empire will be partially invested with the power of our imperial god. This won’t be a metaphorical investment; leaders are actual avatars of their god, helping to ensure the regions are operating in lockstep with the larger direction of the empire.
  • Divine Law – Given the diffusion of the imperial god throughout the empire, the law is directly transcribed by the imperial cult and distributed throughout the empire. Each region applies the law within their own bounds, with smaller localities having the ability to appeal decisions to a regional capital where an avatar leader resides.
  • Tribute Festivals – Tributes are delivered to the imperial capital on a yearly basis. The delivery of tribute is accompanied by a week-long festival throughout the empire consisting of religious festivals and days of rest.
One of the ideas that I really like with this setting is taking mythological aspects of real-world cultures and keeping those beliefs in the inspired setting (like the incarnate leaders in this one). This can lead down some interesting paths that really help to differentiate the setting further (like the idea that our empire moves in lock-step thanks to the direction of hundreds of avatars of the imperial god direction each nation).

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