The basic geographic unit of Might & Fealty is the settlement, which consists of the actual village, town or city and the surrounding land that is used by the people of the settlement.
Settlements are dynamic, they can grow or shrink, buildings can be constructed or destroyed, roads, bridges and other features can be built, a lot can happen in a settlement.
Settlements are usually controlled by a lord and his or her knights. This includes the military, the economy and the political aspects.
Sometimes, players will have taken some time to create Places of Interest within a settlement or outside of it that you can visit.
For simplicity, the lands surrounding a settlement are given a biome, a landscape definition. Settlements can be in the mountains, forest, grasslands or scrubland or one of several more biome types. The land around a settlement determines many of the basic economic features, such as how fertile the land is, determining food production, or how much wood can be cut, or if there is metal to be found in the ground.
Other geographic features, such as altitude, humidity or whether the settlement is near a river or coast (which allows for fishing) also influence the basic economic factors.
Finally, the biome type also determines travel speed through the area.
A settlement under control of a First One is called an estate.
Estates can be conquered or granted to others, and they can be part of one (and only one) of the Realms. A settlement can only belong to any realm that its lord belongs to. When granting estates, it is also possible to keep a title to it, granting it in fief to a vassal to manage it, but retaining the ability to take it back quickly.
Within the settlement, the lord can use the Permission system to grant rights to other characters, including whole groups. For example, a military center would want to allow all members of its realm to resupply there.
In addition to actual control, First Ones can also hold Claims to settlements.
In addition to the basic economy determined by geography, settlements also have many buildings that influence the local economy, and probably the most important external factor: Trade.
With Trade & tribute, a settlement can grow far beyond its natural limitations. In fact, very few areas allow a settlement to grow into a town without additional food imports, and no city can survive without food being brought in from surrounding villages.
Settlements are also a source of income. The game assumes that taxes are collected and used to pay for local administration and other overhead, which is why you will not see taxes coming into your purse automatically. If you as the lord need gold, you will have to collect additional taxes, which - as we know from our own real lives - peasants see as basically robbing them. In other words, use the Looting action for it. As the owner of the settlement, you can loot for wealth very efficiently and without ill effects.
Economic security represents the basic protections against forces of nature that prevents the loss of livestock and harvest to wild animals and roving bandits. A palisade will keep wild animals away, towers discourage bandits, a small number of militia helps against both. And finally, there is security in numbers, as wild animals avoid larger settlements. Thralls, especially if there are a large number of them in relation to native population and militia, will reduce economic security.
Corruption is inefficiency in the local economy. It depends solely on how many estates you personally hold across all your characters and is our way of encouraging powerful players to share their spoils with others, and rule by proxy rather then themselves. The number is actually exactly the number of all your estates, divided by 5. So if you hold 20 estates across all your characters, each of them will have a corruption value of 4%. Corruption is a sad fact of life, so it will never be zero, and a few percent of corruption are perfectly normal.
Corruption will siphon some resources into a black hole and increase training times of soldiers. The first effect is the same as the corruption value, so if corruption is at 4%, every resource in every estate of this player will have a 4% higher demand. The training time penalty is twice the corruption, so in the same estates, all training times are increased by 8%. As you can see, for a few estates, corruption effects are minimal. But for players who try to control large realms by themselves, when resource demands add up, and training falls behind smaller and more agile enemies, it should become clear to even the most dedicated control-freak that distributing his power to vassals is the only reasonable solution.
Settlements are also where soldiers are trained and equipped. With the proper buildings, all kinds of equipment and training can be provided, and the size of a settlement determines how many soldiers can be trained at once.
Settlements also have another important aspect: Fortifications. The game makes a difference between fortified and unfortified settlements. Anything that encircles the settlement completely, limiting entering and leaving to gates or forced entry will make the settlement fortified. In most cases, that means as soon as a palisade is completed.
Fortified settlements enjoy great benefits. Even the most simple fortification keeps wild animals and roaming bandits out at night, increasing economic security. It also forces looters and other hostiles to enter the settlement, instead of being able to pick on outlying houses. This dramatically changes the strategies of defending and attacking.
If the settlement is being attacked, fortifications grant a bonus to the defenders. The better the walls and towers, the higher this bonus is. A well fortified settlement can defend itself easily against superior numbers. Since food still comes from outside, siege and starvation become the weapons of choice against these defenses, which reverses the initiative (i.e. the defenders decide when to engage in a sortie).
In addition to their native population, settlements can also have thralls. These are peasants taken by force from other settlements near or far. Depending on the culture of the region, they can be considered slaves or forced labour or a lower class of peasants.
Thralls will work the fields, forests and mines, but they cannot be used for construction and both entourage and soldiers will always be recruited from the peasant population. They get slightly less food than peasants (three quarters) so they will also be the first to suffer from hardships and the last to benefit from good times, which means thrall population will generally decline faster and rise slower in reaction to food supply. Thralls also reduce economic security (see above).
The question of whether or not it is allowed or honourable to take thralls at all is a matter of realm culture and before doing so you might want to check in with your liege, king or whoever is above you.