Klingon: the Klingons have dozens of alien tribute worlds which provide most of their raw materials and agricultural foodstuffs.
tlhIngan Hol (Klingon)
The Klingon Empire is an aggressive, expansionistic power located on the United Federation of Planets' spinward-rimward frontier. Bordered by open space toward its rimward and spinward frontiers, the Klingon Empire shares its coreward border with the Romulan Republic. The Klingon Empire is arguably the most powerful military force in the known Beta Quadrant and rivals the Federation and Tholian Assembly in terms of amount of territorial control. In recent years it has been beset by internal factional disputes that have threatened its stability, from the scheming and insurrection of the House of Mo'Kai to the aggressive raids of the Hunters of D'Ghor.
The origins of the Klingon Empire have taken on a mythological dimension, and its people are generally uninterested in close historical scrutiny. It is agreed that the Empire was founded with the rise of Kahless the Unforgettable, who overthrew his enemies with the support of the Klingon people and became the first Emperor. This Imperial leadership lasted over a thousand years, until the reign of the last emperor in the mid-21st century, at which point authority passed to the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council.
Due to the limits of technology and the low warp speeds of which the Klingons were capable, expansion was often slow over these thousand years. Borders expanded with new conquests, but these needed to be governed and retained while support from the core worlds might be slow to hear calls for aid and even slower to answer them. As the Empire expanded coreward they encountered the Romulans at some point, and these two powers appear to have kept each other's expansion somewhat in check over the centuries. Interstellar politics were limited; most powers encountered by the Klingons that were not the mighty but reclusive Romulans were either close enough to be conquered, or too insignificant for concern.
This changed with the rise of the Federation in the mid-22nd century. Governments the Klingons had seen as future subjects became a rival power, and one whose expansion through diplomacy and the unfettered curiosity of humans was far, far swifter than the Empire's. The next century was tumultuous for the Empire, as the Klingons came to terms with a determinedly diplomatic, expansionist neighbour they could not easily conquer. Hot-headed warriors called for war anyway; cooler heads knew a different path was necessary, and Klingon culture spent a long period at war with itself as different Great Houses vied for supremacy in their ideal future for the Empire. This resulted in the rise of extremist, warlike factions who triggered the Klingon-Federation war of the 2250s. Only with their defeat did stability begin to return to the Empire, the rule of the Chancellor over the Great Houses secured.
The decades that followed were consumed by a cold war with the Federation, until 2293 and the loss of the Empire's most important energy production facilities with the explosion of Praxis. The Empire was forced to focus on its internal infrastructure, which was impossible so long as they retained a war footing with the Federation. Diplomatic overtures were made, resulting in the lasting peace of the Khitomer Accords. This treaty would be suspended briefly in the outbreak of another Klingon-Federation war in the early 2370s, caused primarily by Dominion efforts to destabilise the Alpha Quadrant. But the rising Dominion threat ultimately saw the Khitomer Accords restored, and the two powers united in an alliance to defeat their enemies in the Dominion War.
Peace and cooperation endured between the Klingon Empire after the war, in great part due to the rise of power of Chancellor Martok, a war hero, general, and staunch ally of the Federation. While this pro-Federation stance saw opposition from some Houses, Martok's personal popularity granted the Empire a decade of stability as they rebuilt from the Dominion War, even the most determined of warriors sated by that great victory - for a time.
The Sovereignty of Kahless: 2388-2391 CE
The Sovereignty of Kahless were an insurgent faction that rose out of that discontent of fringe Houses. Led by the dishonoured Ma'rek of the House of Ma'rek, they gathered forces, made claims upon regions of Federation territory, and incited uprising and violence with a populist appeal to Klingon warrior traditions. At their peak in 2389 they staged an invasion of Federation space, seizing colony worlds and threatening more. For two years they retained control, but they had grown so large by being underestimated by the Empire and the Federation; this invasion saw both factions combine forces again against a common enemy. The resulting Operation: Gatecrasher in 2391 was a successful joint operation by Starfleet and the Klingon Defense Force to liberate these worlds. Ma'rek was slain, and most of the Sovereignty's leaders killed or captured. But while this brought an end to the Sovereignty of Kahless as a political entity, the breeding ground for their ideology remained, and a subtler faction set upon this opportunity: the House of Mo'Kai.
The Mo'Kai Challenge: 2391-Present
The 2390s have been marked by increasing activity from the House of Mo'Kai. Harbouring survivors of the Sovereignty, they aspire to restore Klingon greatness through the old ways. Their propaganda has further radicalised many sympathisers of the Sovereignty, and the Mo'Kai have surreptitiously begun a campaign of raids, bombing attacks, cyber operations, and assassinations against the Empire and the Federation alike. Their goal remain to subvert the security of both powers, especially along the fraught border. However, neither the Empire nor the Federation has successfully proven the Mo'Kai's culpability.
This instability has seen further factionalising within the Empire, for not all Klingons have responded to politics with politics. Most notable is the more brutal, vicious threat presented by the Hunters of D'Ghor, raiders and hunters seeking their own glory rather than targeting the Empire itself. However, with all of these struggles and the advancing age of Martok, some wonder if the Klingon Empire is facing a crisis the like of which it has not seen since Praxis, unless it can resolve the inherent conflict between its alliance with the Federation and the desires of its young, hungry warriors.
The Empire operates on a feudal power structure, historically a monarchy, though little of the practicalities of its governance have changed with the ascendancy of the Klingon Chancellors. Power flows from the Chancellor, who is advised and aided or fought and opposed by the Great Houses that sit upon the High Council. These Houses hold control over large swathes of territory and their Councillors lead departments of the government. But while they hold significant enough power to pursue their own agendas, they often have many rivals and the Empire has always been at its most powerful when the Houses unite and cooperate. As such, who the 'true power' of the Empire may be has often depended on the strength of will of the Chancellor, the force of personality of the Councillors, and the cooperation of the Great Houses.
For most of Klingon history, the Empire was ruled by a single figure in the guise of the Emperor of the Klingon Empire. Originally directly from Kahless' bloodline, subsequent Emperors following the Hur'q invasions would wield power through their own personal honor and fighting prowess. The last Emperor for 200 years died in 2067CE, and with no successor, the opportunistic Chancellor of the time assumed complete power over the High Council and the Empire.
This changed in 2369, with the apparent 'return' of Kahless the Unforgettable. While Chancellor Gowron and Starfleet investigators discovered him to truly be a clone of the Monks of Boreth, his status as an inspirational symbol and spiritual leader to the Klingon people was recognised. Kahless was thus restored as Emperor of the Klingons, though he no longer holds temporal power and instead resides on Boreth, there to inspire and guide Klingons on matters of spirituality, honour, and their traditions through example and teachings.
The Chancellor's role in Klingon politics has changed greatly. Originally the Chancellor was the Emperor's Second, the man who would rule the Council when the Emperor was leading his forces to war. Later, during the Hur'q Crisis and the disappearance of Kahless' heir, the Chancellor held emergency powers normally vested in the Emperor. With the death of the last Emperor in the 21st century, the Chancellor assumed complete power of the Empire and so it has been ever since. They head the High Council, and while they legally have complete authority over the Empire, its laws, and its future direction, they are reliant upon the support of the Great Houses if they wish to be effective.
The Rite of Succession is invoked upon the death or deposition of a Chancellor, a highly formalised procedure that was invoked to avoid complete chaos between ambitious houses in a power vacuum. It necessitates that the next Chancellor has the support of the Houses, and demonstrates their prowess as a warrior and personal honour. This reduces the risk of a weak new Chancellor, and the risk of opportunistic seizes of power.
The High Council
The High Council, also referred to as Imperial Command or High Command, is the closest thing the Empire has to a legislature or ruling body. It is comprised of some two dozen representatives of the most powerful houses and headed by the Chancellor. These Councillors oversee the governance of the Empire, each with their own ministerial responsibility. The Council has historically been a bed of intrigue and politics as Great Houses have battled for influence.
Outside of their role in the Council, the Great Houses rule over vast swathes of Klingon territory. Their word is absolute in these regions as they oversee whole sectors of worlds, their economies, their people, and their protection. Great Houses usually have lesser houses sworn to them, who may be so minor they only perform a traditional service, or they may rule over multiple worlds or systems for their lieges. Houses traditionally practice primogeniture, the eldest child assuming leadership upon the death of the head of a house, though it is not unheard of for powerful and ambitious siblings to subvert this process.
Women in Politics
Despite Gowron's claims that women do not rule or sit on the High Council, history and precedent disagree with him. In the last one-hundred and fifty years, the High Council has seen two female Chancellors, both highly regarded and successful politicians: L'rell and Azetbur. Several Klingon Great Houses have sent women to the High Council: Dennas of the D'Ghor and, most recently, L'kor of the Mo'Kai in 2394.
While the Klingon Empire has a patriarchal tendency, women can exercise power and lead their Houses in the Empire as readily as any male. The Klingons, with few exceptions, look to battle prowess and personal honor as the measure of a great leader, not their gender. If a woman has established herself as the dominant figure, her gender is a non-issue for her subordinates; she has proven that her heart is Klingon and that she hears the call of the warrior.
The Klingon Empire is an institution long built on the backs of servile non-Klingon species. Most of the mining and agricultural efforts, as well as the unseen day to day toils of the Empire are done by aliens that the Klingons have conquered, occupied, and - in some cases- enslaved. Though the Federation has had to draw a curtain over this practice out of the necessities of the Khitomer Accords, the Klingon state has changed very little since the days of first contact.
Rulership over the dozens of client worlds differs. These worlds do have some upward mobility depending on how long and how servile the occupied world has been. Worker worlds that have seen no insurrection, pay their tributes, and generally accomplish what the Klingons demand of them are allowed a degree of self-rule. Such rulership, however, is never equal: Klingons are conquerors. Worlds that are newly conquered or troublesome are little more than occupied police states under Klingon martial law.
Most aliens in the Empire go "unseen" but they are there in large numbers and on every Klingon world. Klingons do not toil. Even relatively common-born Klingons can expect to not be subject to the lowest forms of labor. Aliens in such positions know to stay out of sight and out of mind, and they tend to stay in alien-only zones. Visitors are not welcome in alien ghettos by decree of the Klingon government. Aliens do not generally serve on Klingon Defense Force ships without special dispensation, though the occasional non-Klingon scientist or doctor may be found aboard House vessels.
Historians can count the number of planets that have rebelled successfully enough to push the Klingons off-world on one hand. Klingons do not settle for defeat easily. Planets that accomplish this level of "success" see the worst impulses of the Klingon regime: they are usually bombarded from orbit until very little is left. The Klingons may reoccupy the smoldering remains and disperse the surviving population across the Empire to toil on other servile worlds. Or they will leave it a ruined, likely uninhabitable husk for the next few centuries. The Klingon mind has little issue with genocide.
Klingon society is highly complex, but at its core it operates on a system of personal and social honour. A Klingon is expected to act in a certain way to gain and retain their honour; those who are seen as honourable will be treated with more respect, their words given more weight, and they will be seen as an example to other Klingons on how to be Klingon. Thus Klingon identity is, at its core, about what one does rather than what one is.
The most obvious example of 'doing Klingon' can be seen with the life of a warrior. Every Klingon is taught that being a warrior is the most honourable way of life: demonstrating prowess in battle and winning glorious victories. This has contributed to a society in which their military is integral, and an Empire which is always seeking opportunities for expansion through conquest.
Honour is also achieved through service - to the Empire, to the KDF, and to one's family. A Klingon is expected to obey the head of their house. Their honourable actions bring glory to their house, which in turn reflect upon the honour of a house's member - and the same is true for dishonourable deeds. The most egregious breaches of honour may bring an entire family into shame, perhaps for generations at a time. This is reflected in the highest shame, discommendation, in which the High Council themselves strip a Klingon of their personal or family honour, an act which can cast an entire bloodline from Klingon society. Because of this relationship between a Klingon's honour and that of their house, the class structure of the Empire has remained stable and regimented. Some disagree that one's birth makes a warrior more honourable, and indeed, members of a house are expected to live up to their family's reputation. But a Klingon with no family will still have a harder time demonstrating their honour and winning glory, however just, honest, and strong they may be.
Adherence to tradition is also seen to be honourable, which has sometimes stymied progress in the Empire, or made it slow to adapt to a changing galaxy. Efforts to deviate from policies of brutal expansionism and constant warfare, however economically or politically reckless, have often been faced with opposition. That opposition can vary, from old Klingons resisting change to young Klingons eager to acquire honour and demonstrate their prowess as warriors. This conflict between orthodox interpretations of Klingon life as one of constant warfare, and the realpolitik of engaging with a wider universe, is one of the the most regular sources of upheaval within Klingon society, and has happened only more and more since contact with the peaceful and diplomatic Federation that has resisted all efforts at conquest for two and a half centuries.
Other conflicts exist within Klingon culture. Demands upon a Klingons honour may conflict; if a warrior's house turns on the Chancellor, should the warrior obey their family or the leader of the Empire? If a warrior's commander is victorious through underhanded means, should the warrior share the glory of such a victory, or distance themselves from such methods? Some warriors are driven to pursue an honourable reputation; others care only about their personal honour, even if nobody ever knows of their deeds. Indeed, the nature of the 'warrior' has been the subject of much debate - is a warrior only one who undertakes physical battle? Is a brilliant strategist who never leaves a war room as glorious as the soldier on the front line? Even more extreme, is the life of a warrior only martial: can a brilliant scientist who spends their whole life in pursuit of developing technology a warrior in their own way? Must a warrior take endless lives, or is it sufficient that they identify their battles - of the mind, of the heart, of the sword - and win them with strength and honour?
These questions have driven Klingon warriors and philosophers to distraction for centuries. Prevailing attitudes shift back and forth over time; in the mid-22nd century, force of arms alone granted a Klingon honour. With the many challenges of rebuilding the Empire after the Dominion War, and with the attacks on the Empire's honour of the Sovereignty of Kahless, Klingon culture is currently more sympathetic to the idea that a Klingon's greatest weapon is their heart (or hearts), and their battles need not be martial. This sympathy only goes so far, however; it is rare for a truly powerful leader in the Empire to not also be a fighter of demonstrated prowess.
Spirituality and Religion
Ritual and spirituality are highly important in Klingon society. They have a sophisticated mythology that reflects many contemporary cultural norms, and the rituals that stem from this often reinforce them. They give meaning to significant moments of a Klingon's life, like achieving adulthood or joining a family, how they regard death, and the pursuit of a mate. These may be heavily formalised and require those close to a Klingon to participate, or they may be private, a means by which a Klingon may mark or recognise an event.
Their religion is viewed as quite complex by outsiders. They are technically polytheistic, in that many supernatural figures are recognised within Klingon mythology and they once worshipped multiple gods. However, legend states the Klingons slew their gods, and they revere inspirational figures as far more important to Klingon culture, with none more important than Kahless the Unforgettable. He is a subject of personal worship, his spirit often appealed to for guidance. To some Klingons this is merely a meditative practice to contemplate his example; for others, he is a much more real power beyond normal perception that may communicate with them.
Some of the more prevalent and robust beliefs of the Klingon people surround the afterlife. The honoured dead hope to arrive in Sto-vo-kor, where they will be greeted by Kahless to spend the eternity feasting in its halls and fighting with the Black Fleet in battle. The dishonourable are condemned to Gre'thor, which they travel to across the River of Blood aboard the Barge of the Dead.
Klingon spirituality also places great import in prophecy, may view certain objects as sacred or holy, and their culture is so ancient there exist extensive scrolls and texts passed down through the ages or worthy of rediscovering which may provide insights to the Klingon way of life or the mysteries of the Klingon belief systems.
The formal military of the Klingon Empire is the Klingon Defense Force (or KDF). It is a hierarchical organisation that answers to the Chancellor, has a centralised fleet command on Ty'Gokor, and enforces standards of discipline for its members across the Empire. The KDF owns and operates shipyards that produce vessels to precise specification for their own use, and it receives the lion's share of the Imperial budget. Officers must pass an entrance exam, and while members of honourable houses may be better looked upon as prospective candidates, aptitude is necessary and even those of the lowliest birth may rise through the ranks.
Klingon ships are armed with disruptor cannons and emitters, and tend to boast a high number of torpedo launchers. They are all designed for nothing but war, and even the larger ships can have cramped and close living conditions with few personal comforts. Every military ship is equipped with a cloaking device; this has become a mainstay of Klingon tactics since the Empire acquired the technology. Klingon ships are some of the most heavily-armoured in the galaxy, and their armaments are positioned to make them at their most dangerous in head-on attacks. But while the Empire has produced impressive battleships such as the Negh'var class, large and powerful and slower, the most common ships for centuries have been the B'rel class birds of prey: small and swift and possibly the most powerful vessels of their size in the quadrant. It is theorised that the B'rel remains so valued because the small crew numbers encourage camaraderie, and tales of fewer warriors achieving victory over larger forces are perceived to be more glorious. These idiosyncrasies of Klingon culture are often seen in the design of their ships, and how their captains use them.
Any house that holds territory is expected to protect it, and thus heirs and lords who are not officers of the Klingon Defense Force will struggle to retain their legitimacy without a highly loyal family member who can act as the ranking military officer for their territory. In practise, KDF vessels protecting a house's territory are comprised of warriors from those worlds and regions, and thus answer to the ruling house as much as - or sometimes more - than they answer to their superiors on Ty'Gokor. Many KDF task groups are less bound to one region, dispatched to where there is the greatest need, and these assignments - while far from service to one's family its territory - are seen as opportunities to travel far for honour and glory.
- The Empire remains a peaceful and cooperative ally of the Federation; their borders are formally secure and Martok is a staunch friend. Encounters with those who truly represent the Empire will often be cordial and cooperative - for Klingons. However, these individual cordial interactions have been greatly undermined by the House of Mo'Kai.
- The House of Mo'Kai have been waging an insurrectionist conflict against the Empire and Federation alike. This has not formally threatened the peace, but it may make border encounters with Klingon vessels fraught. Are they Imperial loyalists, and thus friends of the Federation? Or agents of the Mo'Kai seeking to destabilise the Klingon-Federation border? With raids on border worlds, attacks against Starfleet defences, bombing strikes and assassinations, many individual Klingons have become enemies of the Federation. The Empire prefers to view this as an internal affair, and so cooperation between Starfleet and the KDF to resolve a Mo'Kai threat may be difficult to achieve.
- A further danger from Klingons has been from the Hunters of D'Ghor, wholly renegade Klingons reveling in battle and prone to more outright violence than the subtler Mo'Kai.
- The Klingons have been written to provide different factions depending on the needs of the writers. Imperial loyalists are friends of Starfleet. If a writer wants Klingon enemies who use politics and manipulate honour to get what they want, the House of Mo'Kai are a good choice. Alternatively, if a writer wants a more traditional Trek story of Klingons who are prone to attacking on sight, the Hunters of D'Ghor are a good option.
- Klingons operate on a complex system of personal honour and societal reputation. They rarely agree on what constitutes 'honourable' conduct; cynical observers suggest 'honour' is whatever a warrior can personally justify. Many Klingons may say there is one true way to be honourable; they will not agree on what that is. Some Klingons think nothing is more honourable than victory. Others believe honour comes from the methods. This does mean that once one knows an individual Klingon's stance on honourable conduct, they can be tremendously trustworthy in that context. Little is more dishonourable than inconsistency.
- The common perception of Klingons is that they are very clear on their intentions. They are warm and welcoming to friends, and aggressive or outright violent to their enemies. Be blunt with them and they will respect it; offend their honour and you will know. Unfortunately, many of the Klingons who view the Federation as an enemy have needed to shroud their intentions, and may exploit these common perceptions for advantage - their honour is in their victory.