Kingdom Building Part II: Who Rules the Kingdom? - Roleplaying Tips

Kingdom Building Part II: Who Rules the Kingdom?

From John Large

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #684

Knowing who is in power is important in any game where you want locations to serve as more than a simple backdrop, because the character of those in positions of power often reflects that of the kingdom itself. Having your ruler emphasize the themes of your kingdom will hammer those details home to your players. It is also useful information to have in the back of your mind when anything that affects kingdom law or policy occurs in-game.

For example, if your PCs kill a person in broad daylight, the response will be quite different in the anarchic realm of a city fallen into chaos than it will be in a strictly regulated kingdom with a standing militia.

This article takes you through the process of choosing an appropriate government type for your kingdom and then discusses how you can use this in play to give your campaign world more depth.

Growth, Stability and Decline

Governments and kingdoms are generally in one of three states. If you have created a history, then that might offer some guidelines. If you want to choose randomly, then take out a deck of standard playing cards with the jokers included and then choose a card. The colour and suit do not matter -just the number does. Reference it with the table below:

CardDescription
Ace-5Growth
6-10Stability
Jack-KingDecline

Growth

The government has recently established itself and is still getting to grips with the reins of power. It’s trying to cement its rulership whilst solving any problems left by the previous administration.

Stability

This government has been in control of the kingdom for awhile and is comfortable with the state of affairs. This does not mean the kingdom is perfect, but it does mean the rulers are ensconced in their positions of power.

Decline

Kingdoms with governments in decline are teetering on the brink of chaos or have just toppled into anarchy. The current model of governance is failing, leading to breakdowns in communication, the decline of law, and in some cases, rebellion or revolution.

Choosing a Government Type

If you have an established history for your kingdom, then you might already have some ideas regarding what sort of agency is in charge of it. If you don’t, then we use the table below.

Sidebar: Kingdom Tags

When creating a government we use the concept of tags. Simple descriptors that can be written in your gaming notes to provide you with instant information on the how your kingdom works.

For example: A government with a tag of Ruler (group) shows there is a single, well-defined group who govern the kingdom.

Tags with a + next to them are positive. Tags with a – next to them are negative. There is a full list of the tags used in this article at the end.

To use the table, draw a card from your deck and reference the result based on whether your kingdoms government is Growing, Stable or In Decline.

GrowthStableDeclineNameDescriptionTags
AceAceAce-4AnarchyNo central government or recognized authority.+Chaos
03-Feb25-6AristocracyRule of select few based on hereditary rights.+Ruler (group)
4-537-8AutocracyPower is held by a single, self-elected ruler.+Ruler (single)
4DemocracyRulership is based on the consent of those being governed.+Ruler (group)
+Elections
6-759-10FascismKingdom rules by a totalitarian and corporatist government.+Ruler (single)
+Guilds
+Military Police
09-Aug6RepublicPower resides in elected individuals.+Ruler (group)
+Elections
10-Jack7JackTheocracyA god or deity is recognised as the states supreme ruler.+Ruler (single)
– Magic (arcane)
+Magic (religious)
+Privilege (clerics)
+Religion
+Military Police
8DemarchyA system run by randomly selected decision makers.+Ruler (group)
+Lottery
9EthnocracyA type of government where one race or ethnic group holds a disproportionate amount of power.+Ruler (group)
+Privilege (race)
+Persecuted (race)
10GeniocracyA government where members are chosen based on intelligence.+Ruler (group)
+Elections
JackQueen-KingKleptocracyA type of government focusing on increasing the wealth of its members.+Ruler (group)
+Guilds
QueenQueenMageocracyRule by those with the most magical power or understanding.+Ruler (group)
+Magic (arcane)
– Magic (religious)
+Privilege (mages)
– Religion
KingKingTimocracyA ruler is chosen based on the amount of property they own or the degree of honour they hold in their society.+Ruler (single) +Code of Honour
+Privilege (land owners)

If you have created a timeline or a history for your kingdom (such as the method detailed in RPT#681 How to Create your Kingdom’s History) then you may want to choose multiple governments, choosing one as the current rulers, and then the others as historical rulers. This is a good thing to do, because the way a kingdom is ruled will have changed over the ages. Some elements or tags that belonged to previous rulers may still linger in the present day.

Kingdom Tags

A list of all the tags used in this article is provided below, along with further guidelines for using them to enhance your kingdom.

Chaos

The presence of this tag means there is no law and order in the kingdom, and no single ruling power. Such kingdoms tend to be violent places where the strong rule at the expense of the weak and people scrabble to hold on to what they have and take more from others.

Random encounters should be frequent in kingdoms engulfed by chaos, as should combats since violence becomes the only law of such places. When PCs linger in an area too long they are likely to have a random encounter. If you need a way of representing this, every few minutes (of game time) the players spend in an area flip over a playing card. If the card is red, then an encounter has occurred:

CardDescription
AceA group of religious fanatics are moving through the area, following omens they believe come from their god. They will rabidly attack anyone who follows them, although they may be persuaded to converse if a PC follows the same religion or they believe the PCs can help them in their goal.
2A gang of brigands, rowdy and violent but not well trained. The brigands are looking for supplies and may be persuaded to leave in peace for an offering of food or water.
3A group of looters returning from robbing a temple or other such building and are laden down with the loot. Although armed, if strongly opposed they will attempt to flee with their ill-gotten gains.
4The PCs find themselves surrounded by a crowd of vagrants, each begging for money, food, and other supplies. If the PCs give them a few coins, then the vagrants will disperse. Otherwise, they will follow them for some time until a more dangerous encounter occurs (at which time they disperse and vanish into side streets and alleys). Should a PC give the vagrants more than 10 coins, then for each additional coin, treat future random encounter draws of 2-10 as being a draw of 4 as word gets around there are generous people in the kingdom.

For example, the PC Sir Edgar gives a group of beggars 15 coins to get them to leave him alone. For the next five encounters, if a card showing a result of 2-10 is drawn, then another crowd of vagrants will appear begging the generous Sir Edgar for money.
5Religious proselytizers attempting to spread the word of their god within the confines of this lawless kingdom. They will to talk to potential converts, but will become standoffish and even violent if their faith is challenged or the PCs demonstrate blasphemous behaviour.
6The PCs encounter a wizard’s henchmen out gathering supplies for their master. This could be something innocuous like certain herbs or something more sinister like body parts, depending on the mage.
7People from a small community trying to hold on to the ideals of a previous government before the kingdom descended into anarchy (feel free to either pick a style of government or draw one randomly to determine how the community rules itself).
8A small group of monstrous humanoids scavenging in the ruins looking for food and easy prey.
9A group of people from a community that blames the previous government for the current state of the kingdom and is attempting to find a new way to live (feel free to either pick a style of government or draw one randomly to determine how the community rules itself).
10A single monstrous beast haunts the ruins of the city. It is driven by animal urges, such as hunting and protecting its territory.
JackA gang of thieves operating in the area. They will try and intimidate the PCs into parting with valuables, but are ultimately cowardly and will flee if strongly opposed.
QueenA party of scholars searching the ruins of the kingdom looking for the secrets of the past. The scholars have great need of protection in the lawless confines of the kingdom and may hire martially inclined characters to protect them on their journey.
KingSoldiers working for an agency that is trying to clear out the city so they can gain power. Their goal is to establish a fortified stronghold somewhere in the kingdom. Once this is done they will send for their liege and start expanding outwards, taking over the kingdom one village at a time.

Code of Honour

The rulers of the kingdom operate under a strict code of honour. The rules of the code will vary depending on the character of your government. Use the style of government to guide you. You will need to decide on the main tenets of the code. Here are some suggestions:

  • Never steal a person’s last coin
  • Respect the boundaries of another person’s land
  • Never attack an unarmed person

Elections

In kingdoms that hold elections the rulers are chosen by the general agreement of the people. This means current rulers have an interest in keeping their people happy. Elections are normally held once a year, but can be called if the previous ruler dies or becomes unfit for office.

To randomly determine whether an election is in progress, draw a card. If you draw a Jack, Queen, or King of any suit then there is an election underway. Here are some suggestions why an election has been called:

CardDescription
Ace-5The previous ruler has died
6-10Due to a public scandal the previous ruler has been removed from office
Jack-KingThe previous ruler has served their full term

An election is a great way to introduce the NPCs that hold power in the kingdom without it seeming forced. Prospective candidates will be out meeting the people and trying to make a good impression on them. There will also be posters and printed manifestos available if your campaign has such technology.

Guilds

Guild are large organisations that can have a lot of power in a kingdom. Most guilds charge fees to their members and amass a considerable amount of wealth. It may even be criminal to practice certain professions without being a licensed guild member.

Rulers looking for financial backing might seek aid from guilds. This gives the organisations even more power and a say in how the kingdom is run. For each important guild you should create an NPC who is the public-face of the guild and decide what their aims are.

Choose up to three guilds that are the most powerful in your kingdom:

CardDescriptionEffect
AceAssassinsAssassination is a common method of removing enemies. Guild assassins have their own calling cards. Such crimes are often overlooked by city guard.
1WizardsThe kingdom has a great tradition of respected wizards. Minor magical items are easy to procure for guild members, whilst non-guild arcane magic is frowned on. Public displays will draw unfriendly attention.
2CarpentersA lot of the architecture in the city will be made of elaborately carved wood. Wooden equipment is also cheaper, costing 75% of the listed price.
3LandownersThe kingdom is divided into a network of different territories, with each landowner being the king of their own small territory. Guards and citizens report first to the owner of the land where they live if they have an issue, only taking such issues higher if they cannot be dealt with locally.
4MetalworkersDecorative metalwork adorns most moneyed establishments. Metal equipment is also cheaper in the kingdom, costing only 75% of the listed price.
5PrintersYour kingdom has a guild of people dedicated to producing written publications and books of all kinds. Flyers advertise all manner of establishments and services available within the kingdom. There are several large libraries. The availability of printed material will also draw mages and other academics to the kingdom.
6ActorsTroupes of actors regularly put on plays and dramas concerning the history and lore of the kingdom. Actors can be found performing in taverns and town squares, often in the company of bards.
7WarriorsAnyone of importance has a bodyguard of warriors hired to protect them. Bands of such men can be found throughout the city. Violence between such groups is commonplace.
8AdventurersThere are regular notice boards around the city where people can post missions and hire adventurers.
9Tavern OwnersThe kingdom has a large number of taverns, each with their own particular turf, specialised beverages, and entertainments.
10StonemasonsBeautiful, carved statues are common throughout the city with most wealthy people commissioning their own sculptures.
JackThievesGroups of thieves have their own territories within the kingdom. Anyone flashing about a lot of money has a 50% chance of being targeted by a group of thieves.
QueenBardsThe sound of music can be heard throughout the kingdom. Bards also preserve oral history and legends. It is easy to find out about the kingdom’s history by visiting any tavern or city square where bards are playing, and giving them a few coins.
KingSoldiersThe city guard of the kingdom are well trained and armed. If an incident occurs in public, there is a 50% chance there will be a city guard patrol nearby.
JokerArchaeologistsThere are adventure sites of great historical interest within the bounds of the kingdom. Expeditions are regularly sponsored to such sites by the guild.

Lottery

Your kingdom elects its leaders as a result of a random lottery. Decide are draw a card to determine how your kingdom conducts the lottery:

CardDescription
Ace-5People who wish to be considered for leadership are expected to undergo tests or trials.
6-10All citizen names are recorded. A person is chosen at random.
Jack-KingA relic or item of divine power is used to select a candidate.

Each session pick a card. If it is red then a new leader has been chosen. Create a new NPC who is now the leader of the settlement.

Some suggestions are given below:

CardDescription
AceA mercenary who wishes to bolster the kingdom’s armies and defenses.
2A guild master who wishes to elevate his profession to one of importance within the kingdom.
3-4A humble peasant who is concerned for the common man.
5A pious religious figure who seeks guidance from his deity.
6A monstrous humanoid who has gained acceptance within the kingdom and wishes to make it a better place for his people.
7-8A local tradesman who wishes to establish more trade ties with foreign kingdoms.
9An isolationist who wants the kingdom to be able to stand on its own without need for others.
10-JackAn ex-soldier who believes the kingdom should be aggressively expanding its borders.
QueenA socialite who is mainly concerned with having a good time.
KingA noble who wishes to see a return to the days of monarchy.

Magic (arcane or religious)

Certain types of magic are supported or illegal in the kingdom. If this is a negative tag then performing the prohibited magic in public will result in fines, arrests, and criminal charges. Magical services of the prohibited type will be far more difficult to find and will cost 150% of the listed price if they are available at all.

There will be far more practitioners of the supported magic type in the kingdom. Paying for magical services of that type will only cost 75% of the listed cost and tutors will be far easier to find.

This tag is found in kingdoms where either religion or the arcane holds great sway. There is a competition between the two types of magic-users.

You can define the magic in question as simply arcane or religious. If you want to be more specific here are some suggestions:

CardSchool of MagicOther Magic
AAbjurationBattle Magic
2-3ConjurationElementalism
4-5DivinationGem Magic
6-7EnchantmentConstructs & Animated Magic
8-9EvocationBlood Magic
10-JackIllusionWitchcraft
QueenNecromancyShadow Magic
KingTransmutationDragon Magic
JokerChoose twoDream Magic

Persecuted (race)

A group of people are discriminated against in the kingdom. Whenever a member of that race deals with city officials or people in power they must roll the dice twice and pick the lower result.

Some suggestions are given below:

CardRace
AHumans
2-4Dwarves
5-6Elves
7-8Halflings
9-10Half-elves
Jack, Queen, KingOrcs/goblinoids

Privilege (clerics, mages or race)

A certain class or race receives preferential treatment within the kingdom. When interacting with city officials or someone in a position of power they may roll the dice twice and choose the highest result to represent this.

Suggestions for race-based privilege are given below:

CardGroup
AHumans
2-3Dwarves
4-5Elves
6-7Halflings
8-9Half-elves
10Orcs/goblinoids
Jack-QueenMages
KingClerics

Religion

Religion can be a positive or a negative tag. If it is positive, religious orders hold a great deal of power and influence throughout the city, there will be a large number of temples and holy services taking place on a regular basis.

Whenever the characters spend a significant amount of time in a settlement in a kingdom with a great religious presence there is a 50% chance that a festival of some kind will be occurring. Some suggestions are listed below:

CardFestival
AA solemn festival marking a death or time of mourning.
2-3A harvest festival.
4-5A festival to mark a particular astrological phenomenon linked to the gods.
6-7A period of fasting and purification.
8-9A seasonal celebration.
10-JackA debauched celebration of plenty and excess.
QueenA festival honouring the ancestors and those who have gone before.
KingCelebrating the achievements of a saint or person of great significance.
JokerAll fools days, where positions are reversed and the nobility serve the poor.

If the tag is negative, then religious faith has been marginalised in the kingdom. Although not necessarily illegal, areas of worship tend to be small shrines in individual homes or isolated areas of natural beauty.

Some suggestions:

CardDescription
Ace-5Extremes of religious faith are frowned upon, but moderate worship is considered normal.
6-10Certain religions have been outlawed due to their practices or particular tenets of their faith.
Jack-KingThe rulers of the kingdom eschew religion, preferring to focus on scientific advancement. Those shrines that exist are private, and public displays of worship are frowned upon or illegal.

Ruler

The ruler tag denotes there is a clearly defined ruler or body of people in charge of the kingdom.

Group

A group of people run the kingdom in concert. This may be a council of elders who wisely hand down edicts and debate matters of law, or it could be the toughest gang of thugs in the kingdom. Any group in control of a kingdom will have a procedure for deciding disagreements between them, whether it be a formal debate, a contest, or a simple duel. However, this can mean that decisions take a long time to make in the kingdom.

Single

A single person governs the kingdom. This means decisions and judgments are often reached fast, but the citizens are subject to the whims and ideas of a single person. If the ruler is wise and kind, then these kingdoms can be paradises. If they are corrupt or have darker motives, then the kingdom can become a den of depravity and violence.

If you want to randomly determine whether or not a single ruler is generally positive or negative, draw a card. A black card means they are a good ruler, whilst a red card means they are a poor or evil ruler. Having an evil ruler does not mean they will always oppose the PCs, just that they prioritise their own goals and aims over the good of the kingdom. A positive ruler may not always support the PCs if they seem to be causing harm or endangerment to the kingdom.

Following the procedure above will allow you to create and detail the government of your kingdom and also fill in more details about the setting and the sort of people and places your characters are likely to encounter there.

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Brief Word From Johnn

The Winner Is….

Congrats to gaz moore who won December’s dice giveaway and a copy of Whitehack First Edition!

I’m doing January’s dice draw in a couple of days. The winning Patron will get a set of smoky grey dice from easyrollerdice.com, one of my dice bags, and a pre-release print copy of Roleplaying Tips Omnibus #1.

If you’ve been wanting this newsletter in printed book format, it’s almost here, after all these years. Each Omnibus will contain several RPT issues, re-edited and organized for bathroom, er, game table reading.

And this month I’m giving the first copy away, signed by me. Roll your dice on my signature for good luck. 😉Johnn holding the Omnibus book and dice prizes

All current Gold and Platinum Patrons are eligible for the monthly dice draws. Here’s how to become a Patron if you are interested in winning loot and supporting the newsletter.

How Do You Organize Your RPG Books?

I’m shuffling titles around on my shelves, to make room for a couple of recent acquisitions, and to be a bit better organized in 2016.

I’ve got two bookcases in my writing room. I’m making one “GM Advice & Reference” and the other “Mega Adventures, Adventures & Cherished Tomes”.

I’m working on bookcase #1 right now. The top shelf has my favourite books on campaign and adventure design, and GM advice. The second and third shelves have GM reference books on making traps, designing monsters, and so on. The third shelf is shaping up to be world building.

I’m not sorting shelves in any particular order. Title or author, for example. Instead, I’m grouping by topics, if there are any, else I’m sorting by book size so I can squeeze more books in sideways on top, lol.

I’ll take photos when I’m done.

How about you? How do you organize and sort your game books?

Speaking of organization, this week’s tips are about one of the most important organizations in your kingdom – the leaders. You can inject a lot of flavour and gameplay ideas into your games with a little detail on who rules your kingdoms and nations and how. Let’s get into John Large’s tips on Who Rules the Kingdom right now.

Get some gaming done this week!

Cheers,
Johnn
roleplayingtips.com