Ten Ways To Enrich Your Campaign With Lists Of Rulers – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0110

A Brief Word From Johnn

Leadership Month Continues

Jared Hunt’s great tips this week make this the third issue on rulership in RPGs. I hope you aren’t getting sick of the topic as I think it’s an important one to GMs.

I firmly believe that “plotting from the top down”, as I call it, is one of the best ways to go when designing your adventures and stories. Clues, threads, encounters, symbolism, twists, and many other compelling story elements become much more manageable this way.

I’ve struggled through the usual alternative–“plotting from the bottom up”–where I just plan and run one session at a time and hope everything ties together at some future point, too many times.

It’s ultimately just a matter of GMing style, where there’s no right or wrong, but have you ever tried drawing a mind map, for example, from the outside in? Plotting from the bottom up is a similar, often frustrating exercise.

So, I’ve got one more issue planned, #111: Tips For Roleplaying Rulers, and then we’ll move off the topic and on to some music tips, as per your great responses to #108’s Tip Request.

(For some info on mind mapping, check out this link: How to Create a Mind Map


Johnn Four
[email protected]

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The Woes Of Rulership

From Jared Hunt

To those on the outside, being the boss may seem like the best job around. Seen from the top, however, the sacrifices, responsibilities, and woes involved make being in charge a little less glamorous than it might appear. Here are just a few of the potential woes faced by people in positions of power and some tips on how you can work them into your campaign.

Constant Danger

A ruler is usually held ultimately responsible for the welfare of his kingdom and so, they face constant danger:

  • Foreign powers who might wish to see his lands become their own.
  • Rivals for power from within.
  • If things are not to the liking of the masses (and they usually aren’t) a leader’s own people might seek to harm him in the hopes that things will change.
  • In any society there are those who are “unbalanced”. These individuals pose a threat out of proportion to their numbers as they are difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

With all of these threats (and more) constantly looming over the head of the ruling individual, it is no wonder that where you find rulers, you find bodyguards.

Characters might find themselves involved at any level of this potential conflict:

  • Posing a threat to the ruler.
  • Acting as bodyguards (the protection of rulers has become such a recognized problem that many game systems offer the bodyguard, or a variant, as a PC class).
  • Being in the position of authority themselves.

Lack Of Privacy

Though modern tabloids are famous for offering daily updates on the doings of people in authority, this is not really a new development. News of the activities of the king, queen, mayor, etc. has always been a staple of gossip from the barroom to the knitting circle.Some of the things you hear might even be true. Consider, however, the potential for error, particularly in the case of second, third, and fourth hand gossip.

It might seem best to simply ignore such idle words, but the wise ruler knows that perception can all too soon become reality.Dealing with privacy issues can become an obsession, leading to rulers who hide their very identity through means both mundane and magical.PCs can become involved on either side of the issue:

  • Helping to protect the ruler’s privacy.
  • Attempting to pierce the veil of secrecy that might surround a ruler.
  • Assisting a stir-crazy ruler to escape for a while.

Lack Of Trust

As the old saying goes, “it’s lonely at the top”. When you’re in a position of power, it can be difficult to know who to trust. There’ll always be people who will be after your job and the benefits they perceive it to entail. This means that everyone is a potential enemy.Every ruler must continuously ask difficult questions such as:

  • Are my advisors keeping my best interests in mind or are they just after my job?
  • Is my loving daughter approaching to embrace me, or do the folds of her gown hide a poisoned dagger?
  • Is this invitation to visit an old friend a welcome relief, or a trap?

Characters might become involved in the tangled web of a ruler’s mistrust in many ways:

  • Spying on the king’s advisors.
  • Being set-up to draw attention away from a disloyal subject.
  • Being spied upon themselves (and how will they deal with a royal spy once the PCs catch him?)


A common problem faced by rulers of all types is the burden of responsibility and the decisions it forces. The common man works for his living and at the end of the day he goes home to relax. A ruler, however, remains on duty for the duration of his reign, every hour of every day.Often, in high places, marriages are merely convenient arrangements. Passions can become squashed in the face of political pressures.Moral responsibilities can also present a quandary for a ruler:

  • Is it okay to sacrifice the lives of a few for the betterment of the many?
  • If one must die to save ten, would you be willing?
  • What if the one to be sacrificed is a friend or relative?

There are few easy decisions when you are at the top. Also consider the ruler who does not wish to be one. Literature provides many examples of such cases, but one of my favourites is Perrin from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. At every turn he attempts to avoid being put in charge, but fate has other things in store.

Characters might be affected by a ruler’s responsibilities both directly or indirectly:

  • A character’s family dies as a result of a ruler’s decision. Will the character now take revenge for what might have been a morally sound decision?
  • The princess is being forced to marry against her will to seal a treaty and prevent war; will the characters aid her escape or force her to stay?
  • A character in a position of power must make a decision that affects many lives.
  • A ruler has decided he no longer wants the job and asks the characters to assist his escape.

Fear For The Future

While your average civilian certainly worries about what the future might bring, history will generally not hold him responsible for how things turn out. A ruler faces the prospect of not only shame during her lifetime, but the potential to have her misdeeds preserved for posterity.Lines of succession are another great worry for many rulers. The birth of twins has been known to tear apart a kingdom before the children are even old enough to speak, let alone assume a throne.

A weak child might be a burden to an ordinary family but to a ruling family it might mean disaster. Advisors and rivals alike are quick to note weakness in both father and son.Consider the implications such fears might have for characters:

  • The queen asks the characters to protect her incompetent son from ambitious rivals.
  • A mistake or misdeed must be covered up lest the reputation of the ruling family be tarnished for all time.

Keep in mind that anything that applies to kings and queens of old applies equally to modern positions of power, whether those positions are political, religious, or commercial. The CEO of a major corporation might wield equal or greater power than the ruler of a small country, and religious leaders both past and present have been known to alter history with a single proclamation.



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Tips Request: “Rules For Running Kingdoms or Domains”

Here is a subscriber request that I’d like to help with as I’m very keen on the topic as well!

I’m a long-time subscriber to your list and have a tip request. Where can I find realistic rules for PCs who now rule domains/fiefs/cities/strongholds? I’ve looked at the Original D&D source books and the Birthright campaign setting and I am not satisfied with those because they are very unrealistic in terms of population growth and some other things.

Can you put out a request to the other GMs to see if they have developed some rules systems, or have advice on where to start making my own system of rules, or other supplements that have good ones? If possible, I’d like to use rules made by someone else who has encountered a similar problem, but I am willing to buy/build on my own.

Thanks for any help. I’m really in desperate straits in my game and my players are getting antsy.”

I’ll share any good information and tips that you send in about managing/ruling game worlds, either as a future ezine issue, in the Brief Word section, or as a Supplemental Issue, depending on what you send in.

Send your tips, links, and kingdom management info to:

[email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Building Realistic Traps

From Nordic

Here is a quick tip for GMs on building realistic mechanical traps and getting in some quality family time to boot.

I find that, if I want a mechanical trap, I’d like for it to be realistic, so I build it from my daughter’s toys. Legos rule! And, I’ve found that she is just as capable as me, so I build these traps with her. She has even thrown in a twist or two I never thought of. Never underestimate the mind of a six year-old.

Using children’s toys like Legos, Lincoln logs, tinker toys, erector sets, and such, you can build working models of a mechanical trap that you can show to your players after the session. My players look forward to this now and have given a prize to my daughter for being very clever. Even those GMs who are not married or don’t have kids might have nieces and nephews who would find it fun to build a mechanical trap that will stump the players for a while. Then, you as a GM can sit back and grin because a child is stumping a group of adults.

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Epithets And Kings

From Aytug

About giving epithets to kings:

First, some examples from the Ottoman Empire:

  • Suleyman the Lawmaker: For almost forming a whole law system, which was essential in later periods as well.
  • Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror: Over half of Ottoman rulers conquered, but this title is Mehmet II’s alone, for the legendary conquest of Constantinople.
  • Beyazit the Lightning: For moving between the eastern and western borders constantly from battle to battle.
  • Ibrahim the Crazy of the Beads: Supposedly he was not quite sane, and for wearing beads.

The hints:

  1. Don’t limit yourself with “Lionheart” or “the Great”. The epithet might be anything from a personality trait to a legendary feat to a single anecdote.
  2. The epithet has to have a reason. Many kings are mighty, so Barlac the Mighty should have doubled the territory or something. If you have an interesting name, you can never do without the story, it will be asked.
  3. It should sound good. Awkward nicknames just don’t stick. The examples above flow perfectly in Turkish.
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Spice Up Combats With Vocabulary: 100 Pulse-Pounding Words

From Father Donz

I keep a sheet with about a hundred combat descriptors for fights (in which there are many). It has words that can describe wounds, feelings of rage, movements, etc…

It makes combat different every time!

Here’s the list:

  1. Ache
  2. Angry Wound
  3. Assault
  4. Bang
  5. Bash
  6. Batter
  7. Bayonet
  8. Beat
  9. Blow
  10. Bonk
  11. Burn
  12. Castigate
  13. Chastise
  14. Club
  15. Confusion
  16. Crack
  17. Crunch
  18. Cuff
  19. Cut
  20. Damage
  21. Dash
  22. Desecrate
  23. Destruction
  24. Devastate
  25. Disaster
  26. Discipline
  27. Disorder
  28. Dispel
  29. Disperse
  30. Dissipate
  31. Distress
  32. Eruption
  33. Exploits
  34. Gash
  35. Hack
  36. Hammer
  37. Harm
  38. Haul Over The Coals
  39. Hit
  40. Impair
  41. Insults
  42. Knock
  43. Lacerate
  44. Lash out
  45. Mangle
  46. Mar
  47. Mayhem
  48. Mess
  49. Mistreat
  50. Misuse
  51. Offend
  52. Pain
  53. Penalize
  54. Pierce
  55. Pound
  56. Pulverize
  57. Pummel
  58. Punch
  59. Punish
  60. Rap
  61. Ravage
  62. Raw
  63. Rebuke
  64. Reprimand
  65. Reprove
  66. Rip
  67. Run Through
  68. Scatter
  69. Scold
  70. Skewer
  71. Slam
  72. Slap
  73. Slash
  74. Slice
  75. Slit
  76. Smack
  77. Smolder
  78. Spank
  79. Spatter
  80. Spear
  81. Spike
  82. Splatter
  83. Spoil
  84. Spray
  85. Spread Chaos
  86. Squander
  87. Stab
  88. Sting
  89. Strike
  90. Swell
  91. Tap
  92. Tell Off
  93. Tender
  94. Thud
  95. Thump
  96. Upset Your Balance
  97. Wet
  98. Whack
  99. Whip
  100. Wound
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Two Quick Session Organization Tips

From Father Donz

  1. Session checklist. I number each session in my notes and then cut the corner of the page after the session ends so that I don’t have to fumble through them in the middle of the next game.
  2. Buy pre-punched paper for home printers so you do not have to punch or, more precisely, mis-punch documents for binders.
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Fast Map Labels To Save Time

From Joe D.

To keep track of your cities and villages, while at the same time saving time and map space, label them on your maps with just a number and the first letter of their type: v1, v2, c1, c2, and so on.

First, you go over the map telling your players the names of the towns, villages and cities you feel they should know. Then, you tell them that you will give them the other names as they become relevant.

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World Analysis Creation

From Allen T.

I am a recent subscriber to your letters, they are great, keep up the good work. I really enjoyed your recent email about world creation and making things seem alive, there were some great ideas and tips in there.

I have a system I use for creating worlds. I am an admittedly lazy ref, (job, kids, etc. tend to get in the way), so I developed a way to quickly create new worlds that might be of interest to your subscribers.

We all use a set of statistics to describe characters (Strength, Con, Agility, etc) right? Ergo, why not use a set of standard statistics to describe a country or region? A character sheet for a country, you might say. Or, perhaps call it a country sheet.

I use some percentile dice to determine the basic stats I need to know and then go from there. Obviously, you have to adjust to the plot, and the main country is usually pre- planned out, but the random rolls give some basic ideas of ways to go, especially for regions you don’t want to sit and detail.

  • Type of Government:
    Republic, Democracy, Monarchy, Patriarchy / Matriarchy, Theocracy, Plutocracy, Communal, Imperial, Military, Other
  • Centrality:
    How central is the government? (Even in a Monarchy the local Dukes may actually be in control, i.e. Scotland Middle Ages.)
  • Stability:
    How stable is the government? (Peace or Frequent Civil war.)
  • Control:
    How much control / military presence does the government have? (Some governments may be stable but have a small military such as Japan & Mexico.)
  • Rich Or Poor:
    (Bonus for good trade routes, rivers, ports, etc.)
  • Population Density:
    (Affected by terrain as well as wealth.)

There could be others of course…depending on the genre and the GM’s needs.

A good example of this is when I “discovered” that Troll Culture is a Matriarchy, strictly controlled and stable. Hence, I decided that Troll females must be much smarter than males and even have a basic language, history and religion. This affected the plot as one PC made friends with an injured Troll and eventually the local Matriarch decided to teach him their language and history, primitive as it was. It added depth to the Trolls instead of just huge slobbering death machines.