Thursday, 21 January 2016

Government Forms in Gaming Question

The Grand Annihilator asked and question and two people said I should preserve my answer on the blog. So I will.
The Question:

Shared privately  -  Yesterday 23:48
What's are some concrete and interesting ways to make the political organization of whatever territory the PCs are adventuring in part of the game?
EDIT: I'm thinking less of allegiance, than of form of government--monarchy vs magarchy vs police state vs federation etc

TLDR: Pick a strong and distinct authority structure and mimic it in the built environment, family structure, police structure and assumptions of polite behaviour.

The Built Environment. Density, type, arrangement of buildings in urban spaces and villages; monarchies have semi-feudal castles surrounded by villages. Commercial or semi-liberal empires have town halls and streets of merchants and craftsmen. In magocracies every village has a big fucking tower right in the middle and libraries are centrally fortified courthouse/jails.

Anarchies are a bricolage of buildings.

Essentially the arrangement of power in the area is mimicked by the arrangement of buildings in its populated zones.

Are the roads and streets straight or crooked? Rome would make every highway laser-straight. Imperial France would tear up city sections and have the re-plotted in a rational way. The closer power is to the local area and the longer there has been continual peace and continuity, the more organic and individual the shape of cities, towns and villages will be. Straight lines mean control from above or recent colonial cultures.


Meeting People

Are people openly wearing weapons? Who gets to do that?


The way people dress and act in public and who gets accorded status in public. Scholars get treated like lords and knights in magocracies. Police States privilege those with secret authority- everyone dresses similar but there is a complex and powerful hierarchy just under the surface which locals know about but you don't. Liberal commercial empires might do it like Victorians with uniform dress codes but lots of room for big status displays, or they might do a version of our society with everyone wearing a kind of semi-individual low-level uniformity and subtle but powerful status displays like some people having ultra high-quality goods but you need to be part of that culture to work out who is rich and powerful and who isn't.

With hidden power and wealth structures then maybe some kind of WIS/CHA interaction could allow you to both perceive and affect those structures. Hih WIS characters would be able to sense who is important. High CHA characters would be able to mimic the invisible and subtle power displays better than others (low CHA PC's wold seem 'basic' or obvious, flashing wealth in the wrong way and losing status)

In a confident, large, powerful theocracy, people might not wear religious symbols and might be a bit flaky about observance in public as everyon is assumed to have the same religion, in a smaller, threatend theocracy people would be mich more publicly puritan as the threat of the Other would be closer.


The colour and shape of the public crowd can be a partial signifier as to the liberalism, or not, of the government. Are inter-racial couples common? Hidden? Expelled to the slums or the village outskirts? Same with gender stuff. Are people divorced? Polyamorous?

What are parties like and where are they held? Are they secret gatherings in someones house like Iran, or mass public events?

When you walk into a bar, do you need to know someones name or be a regular or have some kind of special knowledge to be served or for people to talk to you?


Family structure and assumption of authority. Families sometimes mimic or shadow the power structure of the wider society so when you meet a family its a bit like meeting the society entire. When you meet a family are they close, nuclear? Is it common for generations to live together or do people live very distantly from each other? Do they accept the authority of a central matriarch or patriarch? How does the matriarch or patriarch act? Are they liberal/authoritarian like a likeable victorian dad? Fascist and controlling like  Hitlers dad? Vague and accepting like a flakey suburban parent?


Police and law enforcement are like a lens for the way a society looks at authority. Modern cops are dressed semi but-not-quite military in the ranks and dress like businessmen higher up, mimicking our tradition of capitalism and civilian control. So when you look at the way police dress in any society, they show you in miniature, the kinds of dress, codes and authority that society accepts. 

What do cops and law enforcers shout at you when they are trying to get you to stop doing something? 

What race, gender and religion are the cops? usually they will be lower-status members of the dominant group?


When people drink does someone say "god save the (king, queen, hierarch etc)!" like they might in Elizabethan england, and if they do, does everyone repeat it and is anyone a bit slow about it.


Pick an order in which strangers talk to each other (they always talk to the mage first in a magocracy, , to the cleric first in a theocracy, to the women first in a femocracy, to the armed figure first in a bad anarchy, to the highest CHA first in a nice anarchy) then have normal people freak out when the PC's break the pattern and talk to other people in the wrong way.

This was a bit blathery.

Other, perhaps better answers are on the thread which I assume you can find if you are meant to find it.


  1. Towns are hard. It's that big disconnect between what you know as a world-builder behind the scenes and how you convey that to the people around the table in ways that mean something.

    It's all fluffy text though. Player's eyes glaze over when I rattle off town history. I've started giving shorter and shorter box texts for towns: give them the two sentence gist, some suggested things to check out, and let them use standard town assumptions for the rest. When it comes down to it, aren't towns just somewhere between a really interesting dungeon room and an above ground mega-dungeon?

    If you want to read what a new-ish anarchist's take on some fantasy anarchist towns, I've got a terribly written series on it.

  2. These are great suggestions. A few of them seem to be too-closely mapping contemporary attitudes, though. Consider: Imperial Roman society had inter-racial couples despite being quite authoritarian. Whereas famously egalitarian Switzerland never did, if only because the Swiss had no empire and consequently only one race. Imperial China and Japan both had polygamy (either formal or de facto) but Imperial Russia frowned on it. In other words, if a tyrannical society cares about things like race, sex, marriage, etc., then those things will be strictly controlled, but how the society cares about them seems to be arbitrary. A nobleman might be forbidden to have more than one wife, or he might be compelled to have more than one wife. Adherence to the form is important, but the form can vary.

    Note that in a colonial situation, the police may well be members of an "inferior" minority in the local society, given their authority by the colonial power because that ensures their loyalty. They might even be outsiders from a different part of the empire (like Sikh police in Shanghai).

  3. Patrick. Very nice post. On rare occasions we can in our games reflect "real stuff" from the "real world" and make them interesting and fun, even when they are actually ridiculous or horrible. Thanks.

  4. Patrick. Very nice post. On rare occasions we can in our games reflect "real stuff" from the "real world" and make them interesting and fun, even when they are actually ridiculous or horrible. Thanks.

  5. what ever the name of the authority it really doesn't matter.

    it is either compassionate or disdainful and inclusive or divisive.

    all else is detail.

    now figure how a compassionate and inclusive police state might act, react and with what morality. ethic and/or philosophy.
    maybe there wouldn't be one law for the rich and another for the poor? maybe most people would be police and those that chose to not be would be respected and protected? and the law would be that resources are spread evenly like the law? égalité?

    not exactly the same as a disdainful and socially exclusive thus divisive police state right?

    Someone I know witnessed a cop climbing out of his water cannon armed truck to join a demonstration...