willpell wrote:If the nobles are a buffer between the peasants and "those with power", then that suggests they are not "those with power" themselves, which would be contrary to how noble classes tend to go, historically and in the tropes of nearly all fictional genres. If anything, the absolute top of the pyramid is more likely to be portrayed sympathetically; a noble king with a wicked vizier is an easy idea for any audience to get behind, but the reverse is very hard to credit, because how can you call yourself Good if you willingly obey someone Evil? Using Honor instead of Morality doesn't make that much murkier.
Perhaps you could go into a little bit more detail about how the nobles are held accountable to their "subjects", to prevent them from being corrupted into petty tyrants who rule like an Emperor whenever the Emperor doesn't happen to be around.
For simplicity's sake, assume there are three broad social classes: the peasantry, the nobles, and the imperial court (for shorthand, assume that the Emperor qualifies as the whole court). The nobles have certain privileges the peasantry do not, but have only a fraction of the authority held by the Emperor. To relate it to Edo Japan, the nobles are most analogous to the samurai, being the lowest of the ruling class (they do not directly translate in other facets, so don't assume too much from my analogy). Regarding their honor in general, this excerpt from text regarding their society gives some minor insights:
Atcha refers to personal honor, earned through deeds and carefully protected. Muut refers to ordinary honor or duty, something gained by doing one’s job properly. A warrior earns atcha in battle; a guard gains muut by observing his watch faithfully and well.
The duality inherent in their sense of honor is what provides nuance and conflict to their duties. The nobles' muut is gained both by heeding the commands of the Emperor and by treating their subjects responsibly. Should the Emperor cross a line, it is not only their right, but their duty to act against him (there is a complex legal and social system for handling this). At the same time, should the peasantry revolt against just actions of the Emperor, it is their duty to quell such acts. They walk a fine line and are meant to exemplify "with great power comes great responsibility". The peasantry have similarly mirrored duties to gain muut in life.
Note, though, that I never said this was a sustainable system or that nobles were never tyrants. It is built on idyllic principles that may or may not work in practice. Regardless, the magic item is meant only for those nobles who truly possess an understanding of their duties.
If anything, the absolute top of the pyramid is more likely to be portrayed sympathetically; a noble king with a wicked vizier is an easy idea for any audience to get behind, but the reverse is very hard to credit, because how can you call yourself Good if you willingly obey someone Evil?
While it may be more likely and more often portrayed, it is not the case in this campaign. The Emperor is the one who may
have crossed the line, even if his reasons might be good. But determining exactly where the threshold between "good" and "evil" lies is difficult. The philosophical questions you posit are the very same that the players are meant to question and the way they answer them through their actions will determine much of the adventure's resolution.