Worldbuilding and Balbadd

One of the most interesting things about Balbadd in Magi canon is the absence of slavery. (Before the Kou Empire got involved, at least.)

And yes, I’m referring to Balbadd in specific – Sindria apparently took their idea and ran with it, like the acquisitive merchant-adventurers they are. Not to mention Sinbad’s own up close and personal encounter… I won’t spoil things for anyone who hasn’t read AoS, but it was Very Bad.

But slavery being something that doesn’t happen in Balbadd is a plot-critical point, in both series. Because slavery exists everywhere else in the Magi world, one way or another. Yet with all the other awful things that do happen in Balbadd – plagues, starvation, nobles abusing the poor, etc. – until Al-Thamen gets their hooks in the place, that one awful thing isn’t there.

It’s a bit like that instance in the Sherlock Holmes story – the dog that didn’t bark. Which, if you’ve read The Silver Blaze, turns out to be the key to solving the whole crime. That absence is important.

Given how Alibaba introduces the fact of slavery to Aladdin in canon – mentioning that Morgiana was probably taken prisoner in a war – that’s probably the Standard Option in the Magi ‘verse, as indeed it was most places in history up until fairly recently in historical times. (And some places even now, unfortunately.)  So why isn’t it in Balbadd?

We know that, canon, Rashid detested slavery – but as we know from RL, one ruler hating something usually isn’t enough to get a whole culture to dump a bad habit. (See the history of England, James the First, and tobacco.) Which implies that slavery not being part of Balbadd predates Rashid, and is probably part of Balbadd’s culture.  Hence the complete and utter shock of everyone, nobles to generals to street rats, when Abhmad decides to make Balbadd a slave-trading state. (And use his own citizenry on top of that. Brrr.)

Meta, I suspect it’s more than likely the author didn’t want one of the heroes coming from someplace that approved of slaves. But within the bounds of Magi’s fictional ‘verse… I went looking for RL examples of a place like Balbadd; islands, one city on the mainland, living off trade and their wits. And found Venice.

Granted, this is not a perfect match. Venice did allow slavery – but they didn’t apparently approve of it much. And one place they never allowed slaves was on their warships.

Very interesting, those warships. For one thing, they were Venice’s main military force for centuries. Venetians were sailors and merchant-warriors first; venturing onto dry land was for idiots. For another, part of the time those ships had a significant military advantage because the Venetians had tested them out in their own lagoons before any other country ever saw them on the sea.

That lagoon network – that interconnected mess of islands, water, and dry land – is one of the key factors that has to have shaped Balbadd. Like the Venetians, Balbadd survived by trade – and like them, caught between a host of other nations that do support standing armies, Balbadd has to have been performing the ultimate political, mercantile, and espionage high-wire act. Balbadd merchants go everywhere; meaning a lot of the time there will be a very small group of Balbadd natives surrounded by people who may not like having been sharped in the last trade deal, and who might get together and do something about it. And when they’re at home? Well, that network of islands, canals, etc, is one big watery wall between them and the rest of the world. If war comes, they can rip out the channel markers and trust their own memories and maps to take them through. Invading ships would not be so lucky.

And this is the big reason Balbadd is better off not having slaves. They need to trust each other.

…This also implies that to those who don’t know Balbadd, the natives may have a somewhat undeserved reputation for being bloodthirsty in a fight. After all, if you’re not going to take defeated enemy prisoners as slaves, the other obvious option is not taking prisoners….

Those who do know Balbadd know they wouldn’t get off that easy. 😉  If a Balbadd ship has you between the devil and the deep blue sea, they don’t kill you. They just… make a very advantageous Deal.

“We win. By your laws, that means you belong to us. But hauling you back would be such a hassle…. What say you hand over all your valuables, all your cargo, and get the hell out of here?  And don’t let the tide hit you on the way out….”

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30 thoughts on “Worldbuilding and Balbadd

  1. Very nice world building.

    If you’re a friend you get the best deals possible (though they still pull a profit) while new people get treated fairly so they’ll come back and trade more. However if you tick them off, you’ll be lucky to get out of there with the clothes on your back.

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  2. This is why I love reading your stuff. You look at a story and say how can that happen. It’s awesome to see where your thoughts come from and how you apply them.

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  3. Headcanon accepted!

    And methinks that in any decently run AU, Alibaba should take Balbadd back to it’s roots.

    And maybe when he escapes the capital mainland city one of the things he should burn are the canal and island maps – after all, anyone from Balbadd should know those like the back of their hand without a map. It’s the outsiders who need maps to travel Balbadd.

    And I just thought of another new law that was probably put in place during Abhmad’s reign – travel restrictions.

    Because I bet the people had a habit of moving around not just the world but their own country.

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    1. Problem is the Kou Empire probably has enough ships, men etc to simply check all the various canals and islands. Assuming they don’t already have copies of the maps from Abhmad’s decisions.

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      1. They probably do and probably will – that doesn’t mean Alibaba or other forces should try to make it easy for them.

        Which means destroying the maps on the off-chance that they don’t have copies yet – which they might not have demanded previously since they didn’t need them until they were actually in control of the territory also they would have had to think to ask for the maps in the first place.

        Yes, it is useless gesture – aside from symbolically – if they do have accurate maps. But if they don’t and you assume they did, by not destroying them, you have left them with vital intelligence. A big no-no.

        There is also the possibility of the maps being copied incorrectly or made with deliberate misinformation.I don’t remember seeing evidence of a printing press so those copies were all hand made. Abhmad could order accurate maps be given – that doesn’t mean that his people obeyed him.

        Because every culture has things that are simply not done. And in Balbadd, giving outsiders accurate maps might be one of them.

        Because the people of Balbadd might trust each other but they probably don’t trust outsiders very much. Because being courteous to someone and treating them fairly as long as they treat you fairly, that doesn’t mean you trust them.

        It might also might mean harassing Kou’s own ships attempting to make their own maps. And there are probably areas where they can only fit a small number of their ships into – which negates Kou’s navy’s numerical advantage. Big navies and/or big naval ships operate best in OPEN water, not canals and tight spaces between islands. Smaller vessels actually have the advantage in those spaces.

        Even in open water, Kou’s ships could still be sunk by smaller vessels if said smaller vessels were faster and more maneuverable.

        Depending on where the islands are, how they are spaced, and how many of them there are – a blockade might be logistically impossible. And any attempt would tie up an enormous amount of their ships.

        A lot hinges on what exactly the geography is and their ship technology and a whole load of culture canon is quiet about . . . in other words, lots of room for speculation and differentiating interpretation. 😉

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      2. >Heh. They have enough to check… if those don’t change. >
        Problem is as far as I could ever tell, Balbadd doesn’t have a magical tradition. So the only option would be Metal Vessels.

        And while Amon is awesome, massive amounts of fire aren’t the best tool for landscaping. That is if you want the land to be useful for anything afterward. Though come to think of it, Amon isn’t just fire. Heat itself is also apparently in his bulwark.

        And considering that mirages and similar effects are created by temperature differentials and heated air…….*EG*

        Kou naval captain: You brainless fool! You ran us straight into the rocks and the fleet is in shambles.
        Navigator: My lord, we were in the center of the channel, The shoals were to our portside, clear as day. I don’t know what happened!
        Alibaba: (sitting under a concealing heat haze watching the 50 ship pile-up*) ‘Cackles like a madman’
        Amon: While not the most dignified means of using my abilities, I must agree with my King that this is an amusing sight.

        *To get an idea of the scale of the log-jam occuring, check out some battle scenes from ‘The Admiral: Roaring Currents’ (it’s an awesome movie and I recommend it to everyone).

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  4. Heh. They have enough to check… if those don’t change.

    …Hello, magic….

    Sounds interesting.

    Amon and mirages sound very interesting.

    My bunnies are also thinking that Amon isn’t the only source of magic Alibaba could employ in that venture. Aladdin is due to show up after all.

    And Sinbad and his Djinn might also be willing to contribute when he and his Generals show – because you know they will eventually.

    If only because Sinbad wants to meet whoever this is that is as crazy as he is.

    And Generals have to tag along because they honestly thought being as crazy as Sinbad just wasn’t possible.

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    1. Just had a thought about those times we see all of Sinbad’s Generals outside of Sindria – if both the King and his most trusted followers are outside the country, who is running the show there?

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  5. Let’s also not forget that those ships? Happen to be wooden sailing vessels. Likely caulked with tarred rope/moss/hemp… and topped by canvas sails.
    Amon is a FIRE Djinn.
    And while Alibaba is not one to go for a lethal solution right off the bat… Kou is endangering his people. Using Amons fire over water where he doesnt run the risk of hurting his own people? With Islands nearby that Kou soldiers jumping off the burning ships can reach only to be imprisoned…

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    1. And while Alibaba is not one to go for a lethal solution right off the bat… Kou is endangering his people.

      And in cases, harming them. And we all know how proper Kings react to that.

      Plus it is always good to have options.

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      1. Why do I think Balbadd might have different concept of cheating and fair play than some places around the world of Magi?

        And while I don’t know about cheating better, I do think between the two of them (at the very least) can cheat smarter.

        And Jahan seems pretty wily.

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      2. Hmm. Well, we don’t have a ton of examples, but Harun’s first encounter with Sinbad ends up with him sharping the young Dungeon Capturer into a deal that leaves our Balbadd merchant with about ten times the profit.

        And then, later, over drinks, he explains to Sinbad how that worked out, and offers him a few suggestions on what he’d need to do to really break into Reim’s market.

        …Sinbad manages to pull it off.

        So, yeah. I suspect there are good reasons it took Al-Thamen this long to try and crack Balbadd. 😉

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  6. Just had some puzzlers about the culture of Balbadd.

    How do they make their money? In medieval Europe, most nobles made their money from their land – charging rents, etc.

    Maybe a cut of the trade that moves through the territory they are in charge of?

    Some of them probably are merchants too.

    Don’t think Balbadd is importing all of its food so there is agriculture going on somewhere.

    Ownership?

    In medieval England for example, nobody actually owned any land except for the king. The nobles were granted use of it by the king in exchange for military service. In turn the nobles granted use of their lands to the peasants in exchange for rent, labor, etc.

    Granted most of those people did consider their patch of dirt as belonging to them. But legally it didn’t.

    Is there is a hierarchy of nobles like England has Duke, Earl, etc or do all of them have the same title and are equally considered equals to each other?

    Because usually there is some sort of hierarchy because humans are pack animal enough to want a pecking order.

    Other titles

    In addition to having the title of prince, in a lot of cultures said royalty is also considered the feudal overlord / owner of an estate just like the other nobles. Like in the way back, Prince William would as Duke of Cambridge be in charge of the area known as Cambridge and get his primary income from rents, etc of people using his land.

    So wondering if Balbadd does something similar with its royalty.

    And if Abhmad was mismanaging his duchy (for lack of better term) and/or personal finances, that would explain why Rashid had so little confidence in his eldest’s ability to rule. And might have given the Banker at in with Abhmad.

    Is the king considered wholly above the nobles or is he the first amongst equals?

    If our theory is right that the first king was probably a merchant-pirate-smuggler*, then I’d say probably the later.

    *Also now one can argue that Alibaba is merely following and truly embracing his noble heritage. 😉

    I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on medieval history lately – can you tell?

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    1. Yes I can; specifically medieval European history. 🙂 Things worked a bit different in the mostly ancient Middle Eastern and Roman cultures Magi is based off of. Try poking the history of Rome and ancient India if you want a better correlation. I’m currently working on that myself….

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      1. *nods* Looking into that but due to money constraints, I am limited to the ones I can find to watch for free online. And finding ones that are not docu-dramas since too many of them are more drama than docu. Plus they can’t stop and explain why people are doing x.

        And you really need to know those who, what, why, and hows. Especially if you are trying to figure out how magic is effecting the whole mess.

        Also there is always other sources of information that are available online.

        Sad to say but my reference material needs always seem to exceed my budget for purchasing them.

        European medieval history might not be much use for Magi fic but I’m sure it will come in handy for other fan fiction (there is a lot of sword and horses fantasy after all) and original writing.

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