Tweet of the Day: Ancient Roman Pin-Up Boys
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely….
Welcome to a world of snide remarks, not so innocent innuendo, sharp daggers (real or imagined), food tasters and cyanide. This is the Deadly Decadent Court, where appearances matter and the only truth is power, for however long you can hold on to it. The very things that create the courts power structure, such as honor, divine right of kings or loyalty to one overlord also make it deadly. The players within the court depend on these fictions to protect their own power. They realize that all power is temporal and that the players are mortal, thus vulnerable.
This trope comes in two varieties. The first has the king (or equivalent) playing his courtiers against each other while they hold all the power. The idea is that the nobles will be to busy back stabbing each other to conspire against the monarch. He manipulates the players by doling out favors or punishments. The aim of the game for the players is to curry royal favor while pushing casting their opponents as threats to the crown. The second has the monarch be a player in the game. They deal and wheel between their subjects.
The former marks a strong leader whose is vulnerable to external threats since it favors loyalty over competence. That is what happened to the Soviet Union after Stalin’s purge of the Red Army. Most of the competent leaders where killed and the remaining were a bunch of sycophants more interested in their survival than the health of the nation. The later almost always devolves into civil war the moment someone realizes the reason why the ruler is a player is because they don’t have the power to dictate the rules of the game.
This trope is not limited to feudal times or monarchies. It also appears in rich families, the top levels of powerful corporations and organize crime syndicates.
Of course, A Song of Ice and Fire, also known as The Game of Thrones is powered by this trope.