Privilege & Power: Using Nobility in Your World-Building and Plots

Privilege & Power: Using Nobility in Your World-Building and Plots. Read Part II here.

The idea of nobility comes up often in our campaigns. Villains, character backgrounds, NPC classes, settlements, and intrigue and politics, for example, can make nobility important in your milieu.

Noble NPCs are special because they have special privileges and responsibilities most others in your world do not.

For example, perhaps in your setting nobles cannot be charged with — or even accused of — a crime by those without noble blood. With this detail, we can create many interesting roleplay and plot possibilities just by giving certain NPCs some setting-based mechanics. Good stuff!

When designing interactions with nobles, or when figuring out how nobility might affect your game, a fantastic step to take is to decide what rights and privileges nobles receive.

We get a few boons from this prep:

Class Warfare. By giving certain people benefits other do not, we can sew deep seeds of conflict into our setting that can drive quests, missions, and adventures.

Plot Hooks Galore. Each privilege on its own can also be a source of adventures and encounters. For example, a land rights dispute, a controversial exercise of justice, or the abuse of noble power. Victims, villains, or both might try to recruit the PCs to champion their cause.

Character Development. We need to ensure good game balance when players have PCs with noble backgrounds. By understanding the noble PC’s rights and benefits, we can design challenging conflicts and put measures and burdens in place to prevent player characters from wielding too much power early on.

Social & Faction Dynamics. By knowing what nobles can and cannot do, we can roleplay interesting social interactions and hierarchies. This knowledge can help players roleplay social situations, inspire challenging social conflicts, and create chances for diplomacy, honour challenges, and reputation management, and other aspects you might not get to play out often.

Consistent Rulings. Noble advantages might be coveted, feel punitive, or offer critical plot logic for certain adventures. Clearly defining noble perks helps us keep the game consistent and enhance player immersion.

d20 Noble Perks

Here’s a list of 20 noble privilege ideas you might pick and choose from when world-building or crafting such NPCs:

In a gritty setting, where power struggles and harsh realities are rampant, the rights and privileges of nobility can add a compelling layer of conflict and roleplay.

Here’s a list of ideas on rights, privileges, and benefits that nobles in your setting might receive:

  1. Right of Justice. Authority to administer justice within their own lands, including the power to judge and punish crimes.
  2. Private Armies. The privilege to raise and maintain private armies or militias for protection or to assert their will, often leading to power plays and border skirmishes.
  3. Tax Exemption. Nobles might not need to pay certain taxes. They might also be entitled to levy their own taxes on people who dwell within their domains.
  4. Hunting and Fishing Rights. Exclusive rights to hunt, fish, or harvest natural resources within their territories or royal/state-protected lands, a significant privilege in a resource-scarce world.
  5. Patronage. The power to grant patronage, which can include appointing positions within their own lands or recommending individuals for positions of power in the kingdom/state.
  6. Sanctuary. The right offer sanctuary to certain groups, such as those fleeing from the law, ambassadors, or other nobles, creating a network of allegiances and owed favours.
  7. Diplomatic Immunity. The NPCs cannot be prosecuted when on diplomatic missions, crusades, or other scenarios, allowing them to do what others might be arrested and punished for.
  8. Succession Rights. Explicit rights concerning the inheritance of titles and lands, which might include the ability to designate heirs outside of traditional blood lines, a significant tool in political maneuvering.
  9. Exemption from Laws. Nobles might be exempt from certain laws that apply to the common folk, such as restrictions on weapons or magic use.
  10. Right of Parley. The privilege to demand a parley, ensuring safe passage to discuss grievances or negotiate terms with enemies or rival factions.
  11. Legal Dueling. The sanctioned ability to resolve disputes through dueling, a right not typically granted to commoners.
  12. Land Grants. The authority to bestow lands and titles upon followers, reinforcing loyalty to the noble and expanding their influence.
  13. Sumptuary Laws. The exclusive right to wear certain fabrics or colors, or to carry specific symbols of status.
  14. Right of First Purchase. The benefit of having the first option to purchase land, goods, livestock, magic relics discovered, or other opportunities before they are offered to the general public.
  15. Hereditary Offices. Certain positions or roles that get passed down through a noble family, such as a hereditary judge or a military commander of a prestigious unit.
  16. Right of Censure. The ability to formally reprimand or impose sanctions on lower-ranking nobles or commoners who fail to meet obligations or show disrespect.
  17. Exclusive Guild Membership: Access to high-status or powerful guilds and factions not open to commoners, including those related to magic, alchemy, or master craftsmanship.
  18. Right to Mint Currency. Permission to mint their own coinage or credit chits. A rare privilege that can be a significant economic tool.
  19. Right to Hold Fairs. Permission to hold fairs, tournaments, and festivals. These can be a source of major expenses or profits depending on how things are run. They are also a significant source of influence, and a means of controlling local culture and entertainment.
  20. Secret Knowledge: Access to secret or arcane knowledge preserved for the family or nobility in general, including historical records, magical tomes, secret rituals, special spells, or strategic information.

These privileges not only help define the lifestyle and power of nobility, but they also set the stage for conflict, alliances, faction intrigue, and the intricate dance of politics in your milieu.

Graphic of section divider

In the next newsletter, we’ll examine the other side of the gold piece: noble obligations. Nobles might get cool stuff, but there’s a price to pay for that.

And we can use that price to help maintain campaign balance, ensure noble characters aren’t OP, craft compelling plots and hooks, and lay the foundation for societal conflicts and dynamic faction gameplay. Coming to your inbox soon!

Have more fun at every game!

P.S. When you are ready, here are +4 vorpal ways I can help you with your campaign:

+1 Use Campaign Logger to Make Prep & GMing Easier
For GMs of any system looking to run deep, detailed, and immersive games, Campaign Logger lets you take session notes at the speed of thought in your unique GMing style while improving your preparation experience so you can focus on the parts of the game you enjoy the most.
Get your free Campaign Logger account here.

+2 Take the Free GM Organization Challenge
Stop the confusion and frustration of not having what you need to prep and run games at your finger tips. Become an organized GM in just one week:
Enroll at no charge here and start getting organized.

+3 Get the Demonplague (with 62 5-Star Ratings so far)
A complete level 1-20 campaign D&D 5E adventure path that offers intense roleplay, sandbox and hexcrawl play, cunning combats, and fiendish monsters.
Click here to see more details and to order.

+4 Get More GM Loot
Visit the Roleplaying Tips DriveThruRPG store, or browse books and courses to level up your GMing at the store.

Join a private community with Johnn