Are Your Papers in Order, Citizen?

Young Baron Kellan in my Basilica campaign has a problem.

He’s just led his country through two years of civil war. Food is scarce. And many citizens have died due to the fighting, from a shortage of clerics to treat the wounded or diseased, or have simply vanished.

Decades after the Empire’s collapse, every neighbouring realm is led by a warlord dreaming of becoming the next First Emperor. Relations with the elves are deteriorating, and with the dwarves non-existent since they retreated to the mountains.

To the west, dogmen feast upon the halflings, with the Baron’s soldiers too thinly spread to mount a formidable opposition against the self-proclaimed King Tyrex II. Same reason why The Baron doesn’t lay siege on the revived and reviled Basilica cult and behead traitorous Arch Priest Hadrack.

Trade stopped during the war, and merchants are too busy struggling at home to venture forth once again along desperate old routes.

The Crows, a powerful thieves’ guild based out of Ranvenstaag, has an aggressive new leader. Crime is up and it’s the nobles who are the main victims, which has created thunderous murmurings of discontent and even rumours of a soft coup taking shape….

That’s today’s agenda for the weekly Council of the Ministers, who shall discuss, and debate, and discuss, and argue until nothing gets done.

However, the Baron was wily enough to defeat his two brothers in a series of masterstroke military victories after their father, the King, was assassinated. It’s time he doffed the general’s hat and donned the administrator’s, even though it may be far less exciting.

Proof of Identity or Citizenship

Which brings me to today’s tip. I got to thinking about how citizenship was proven throughout Earth’s history. Being a citizen was important in many civilizations for it bequeathed status, rights, and privileges.

Yet, the Romans had no fingerprinting technology, the Greeks had no cameras, and the Egyptians had no government identity computer system.

So I noodled on how Kings, Barons, and Warlords could establish proof of identity or citizenship in our fantastic realms.

Poor Baron Kellan needs to perform a census and tax levy. He’s behind on payments to his officers, and soon will be too for his rank and file soldiers.

So he needs to understand how many citizens he rules, and squeeze a few silvers out of each to help him overcome this fiscal fiasco. But just how does one prove citizenship and get the rights and privileges thereof?

Certainly, an unheroic task for any GM. There’s no adventure in chits and taxes. But let’s help the Baron get his citizenship quest sorted quickly so we can get on with other urgent aspects of our world building and campaign planning.

Here are a few options he’s considering for managing proof of citizenship:

Oral History

Individuals derive their identity from their bloodline, lineage, and clan status, as recounted or validated by elders. Every birth, death, coming of age, and marriage has a memorable ritual that informs the community and becomes part of its history.

Our Baron’s tax collectors and Minister of Citizenry can speak with elders in each community and add names to the well-guarded Scrolls of the Realm.

Tattoos & Scars

Warriors will gather scars naturally through practice and real battles. Some cultures might also use tattoos and scarifications to mark identity, affiliation, or status.

Our Baron’s minions could record each citizen’s “marks” for future identification, or they could require their own brand of citizenship….

Personal Seals and Signet Rings

When quill and parchment become scarce, and fingerprints undetectable, a proxy in the form of an object that transfers a symbol or pattern can be used instead.

Rings can shape hot sealing or signing wax. Carved stone cylinders can roll over wet clay. Holy symbols under thin fabric or material can be traced over with coal.

Our Baron could hand out such devices to leaders in communities and put them in charge of managing citizenship and community status. For example, clan leaders, guild leaders, or nobles.

Birth, Baptism & Death Records

Your society might have institutions like hospitals, religions, and morgues. And they might have the resources to record births and other notable events within old tomes stored in cold basements and cellars.

Our Baron could revive this practice and ensure the institutions resume this effort, backfill any missing records, and have the resources required to maintain the records and present them on demand.

Deeds & Citizenship Papers

“Show me your paperwork, comrade.”

“Comrade, you are not cleared to be in the red zone.”

“Comrade, you are a traitor mutant communist! Come this way please, The Computer has requested to speak with you….”

Property titles, deeds, passports, safe-conducts, and citizenship papers work well in RPG settings for several reasons. Our Baron could have his traveling Band of Bureaucrats set up a tent in every settlement and require everyone to come get their paperwork — after a brief proffering of proof, of course.

Seeds of Adventure

On the surface, doing a census and gathering taxes might seem like a smart government move, but a boring GM Move. However, we can mine this situation for several setting-based encounters and 5 Room Dungeons.

d12 Encounters & 5RD Ideas

  1. Tax collector gets robbed.
  2. Tax collector is the robber.
  3. Important records are buried under ruins and must be retrieved.
  4. Important records are lost or stolen and must be found.
  5. Court proceedings require proof of citizenship.
  6. Heresy proceedings require proof of citizenship, baptism, or affiliation.
  7. Tax vault heist.
  8. People turn out not to be who the PCs thought.
  9. Riots or demonstrations against the new taxes.
  10. Fake agents steal tax money and hand out fake citizenships.
  11. An important signet ring has been stolen or gone missing.
  12. An underground market sells false citizenship.
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It’s Your Turn

By solving the Baron’s problem with an in-game tax and census program, we get a few wins.

First, the setting feels a bit more believable and detailed. This seems like a reasonable activity a ruler would perform, and it makes the world feel less static.

Second, these so-called boring events can take place in the background — a background we can reuse as Plot Factories for encounters, 5 Room Dungeons, and Missions.

Third, this is not a short, one-off situation. It’ll take The Baron a couple of years or more to complete this huge task. And I can mine this activity the whole time for plot devices, news and rumours, and interesting background details.

As I expand my Basilica campaign with undercover warlords, supernatural census issues, exploring ancient dwarven vaults, and secretive elven emissaries, I ask, what do your player characters do to prove their legality, rights, and privileges of citizenship?

Have more fun at every game!

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