Types Of Game World Organizations
From Ian Winterbottom
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #209
I’ve found one of the hardest parts of city games is bringing the place to life in a way that gives the players scenery to roleplay against. It occurs to me that an easy way to combine both could be the idea of The Organisation, which is, in America at least, a euphemism for organised crime, as The Company is for the CIA.
Though seeming opposites, The CIA and organised crime are powerful organisations with influence in many obvious and sometimes even unexpected directions. It seems to me there could be lots of other collections of people that could have interesting effects on the lives of members, associates, citizens, and the PCs.
What I find particularly fascinating is not just the actual “clubs”, if you like, but their interactions with other people, and most importantly, with each other. It’s a sad fact of life, but interservice and intraservice rivalry does happen within such organisations as the police, armed forces, security services, and even the emergency services, to say nothing of the various administrative departments of _everything_! And those are just “official” organisations. Humans have always been good at finding reasons to get together in gangs and shout a lot.
Human nature being what it is, jurisdictional disputes are likely to arise just about everywhere; Hammurabi’s scribes were probably arguing by letter (none better qualified) over who should do what to whom and what with in the year Dot. People, like grapes, tend to come in bunches! Let’s consider what “bunches” might be found in a medieval/fantasy city.
In any medieval or urban setting you should consider these. They can control and organise all aspects of life for every craftsman or service provider. This gets the power out of the hands of the bloke with the biggest muscles and into the man who makes things _work_. Even a barrowboy can outrank someone if he has connections or “knows something”.
- Where is your city located?
- What is its main industry?
- Is there a ferryman’s or harbour pilot’s guild?
- Is there a merchant’s guild that buys and sells all the others?
- Local industry, woodcutting, fish? Shipbuilding? Mining?
- Does the assassin or thieves’ guild exist? Are they “official”? Are they patriotic? Are they baddies on the side of the goodies, as it were? Or vice versa?
Are there any labour unions? In the medieval world, though craftsmen tended to band together, the idea of the “mere” labourer doing the same was fairly radical. Though you got bands of like minded types gathering together and making noises, they didn’t have enough clout to make it stick. Most often, they were considered rebels. Protest marchers got short shrift in historical times, no matter how non-violent.
This said, perhaps there are at least unofficial factions in the main local industry? Is there some particularly charismatic leader, such as William Wallace of “Braveheart” fame? Has he some genuine grievance? Is this dispute serious enough to have warranted official intervention? And might it not escalate later, perhaps leading to a clash between the budding Union and the mighty Guild?
There is usually one, probably more, departments responsible for enforcing the law. Perhaps it’s just ubiquitous town guards, men-at-arms on or off duty, or “ordinary” coppers doing it the hard way. Perhaps it’s a combination of secret police, agents, inquisitors, military police, or informers– people watching people watching people on the lookout for sedition, rebellion, discontent, or just plain crime.
What they’re doing, and why, is your worry, but it will make a difference to the way they act. They will _not_ tend to look on the bright side. It’s an occupational hazard as they spend far too much time on the sticky end for that. Also, they tend to stick together, on or off duty.
There is most likely just the Army, but there may be a navy if this is a port city. There could even be an air force if you’re willing to allow carpets, pegasi or whatever.There will be an elite division of guards or praetorians within the army–perhaps a Varangian Guard of foreigners, such as the Vikings in Byzantium or the Turks’ Janissaries.
- Is everybody in uniform?
- Is there a war going on? Is it civil or external?
- Are soldiers liked and welcomed or are they just the “brutal and licentious soldiery?”
- How do “the common people” feel about your squaddies?
- How do squaddies feel about civilians?
- Is there a press gang for the navy or any other force?
- Are your characters likely to be slipped the King’s Shilling in the bottom of a pint of doped beer?
- Are the soldiers just the local garrison or elite King’s troops on escort duty? Do they need a local guide, maybe? Any volunteers–yes, you’ll do!
What and where are the city’s borders? How are they policed? Are there caravans arriving from far places? How are taxes and tariffs collected? Are any particular goods, services, or people outlawed, and why? Something has to be coming into the city that the authorities don’t like because someone is making money out of it! And, of course, it’s customs job to stop it!
If it’s customs job to stop goods at the border, then it’s the Smugglers’ job to get it through! Whether it’s dope and booze or lace and tobacco, someone wants it. The question is, what will the end buyer pay or swap for the goods or services?Are the Smugglers bringing in something as basic as food, because the authorities can’t or won’t, or perhaps because of siege or stupidity? Perhaps there’s a demand for necessities such as needles and thread and pots and pans, as in the days of the Spanish Main?
Is there a market for illegal immigrants? Coming from where and why? How are they doing it? Fast ships, flying carpets, underwater? In a fantasy setting, there are all sorts of possibilities! Are those illegal immigrants even human?How do the common people feel about your smugglers? It probably depends on exactly what they’re smuggling! In the 18th century, the smuggler was grudgingly respected and allowed some latitude, even by the authorities, because the local magistrate, naval officer, or Colonel of Dragoons wanted his luxury goods too!
Every isolated farm, empty barn, shady warehouse, or musty basement is a potential hiding place, with even churches and graveyards being pressed into service at times.
Everywhere, particularly in a high fantasy setting, there are the beggars, thieves, whores, derelicts, alcoholics, addicts, homeless, and the people you see shoving around supermarket trolleys and living in bus stations. They exist, believe me. And they have eyes! They know _everything_ and they don’t cost a lot. However, they don’t trust easily and tend to vanish if pushed.A good, streetwise thief and a little kindness can work wonders. But, they are elusive and evasive and tend to say what you want to hear.
A good source of rumours, but are they true, or has the informant added his own bit to get a bigger payoff? They’re hard to find to check back with, too!Consider Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars. Who takes notice of a drunk or a kid? A good disguise for a spy, informer, or thief, and you might need the real thing to be able to tell the difference!
The Nutters – Hell’s Angels, Hellfire clubs, religious cults. In fantasy campaigns, they could be racial collections, such as elves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, giants, dark elves, and so on.Think about racial and ethnic factions and street gangs. Drugs, crime, innercity violence. Victorian gentlemen’s clubs. Sports. Women’s lib.
Newspaper readers. Film fans. And, dare I say it? Gamers!People cling together for all sorts of reasons, such as shared interests: fan clubs, Internet groups, train spotters, Freemasons. Sometimes it gets more complex, and you get Nazi or Communist parties or just normal political parties. Facet on facet on facet! Take a look at your own city and invent a few.
Slave traders have existed throughout most of humanity’s recorded history, though not necessarily in an organised or official guise. Sometimes it was an accepted part of society. It’s where the stock in trade comes from that is the problem. Is it from subject peoples, conquered in battle, as in the ancient and dark ages worlds? Or do slaves come from the poor and destitute who can only afford to feed themselves by selling one or more of their children to feed the rest, as in the Middle Ages when famine or plague struck?
Perhaps people enslave themselves, to settle debt, pay for a crime, or escape dire circumstances.Is much of the population virtual slaves as serfs were in feudal times? Perpas it is more complicated than that. A particular race might be considered inferior and natural born slaves because that’s where the supply comes from and the traders organise the coastal tribes to prey on those inland.Human money?
The word Slave comes from slav, because at one time the Slavic peoples were the main source of victims! Is it catch-as-catch-can in your city where it’s not safe on the streets at night? Drink in the wrong pub late at night and get kidnapped?What does the group or society want the slaves for and where are slaves taken? It’s wrong and it’s ‘orrid and it’s nasty – but it makes for some rousing stories if a PC or significant NPC gets grabbed! What happens if the slavetrader concerned is a respected pillar of the community, known for his good deeds and support of the church, and the PCs are trying to rob him of his property?! See the USA of the 1860s.
A man could hang for trying to free a slave – it was classed as theft! A war started over the issue in the end.
Once you have created several groups and organizations, a good technique is to figure out their relationship and attitudes towards each other. Armed with this knowledge, you can generate plots, conflicts, alliances, and some juicy encounters.Check out the example partial table below that I use for my town for interaction between the various organisations I’ve mentioned in this article.
I’ve divided the reactions into:
- + Positive
- – Negative
- 0 Indifferent
This method is a simple, non-game system specific way to measure things up and keep track of the inevitable shifts in attitude. You can use these as a basis for reaction rolls between the organisations concerned, or their members, if they collide. Feel free to divide them further into percentages, DCs, or other type of reaction values are per your game rules. Feel free to invent other groups too.
Group 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -------------------------------------- 1. Guilds + + 0 0 + - - 0 - - 2. Police 0 + + + - - - 0 - - 3. Armed Forces 0 + + 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4. Customs* - + + + 0 - 0 - 0 0 5 Smugglers 0 - - - + 0 0 0 0 0 6. Beggars 0 0 0 0 0 + 0 0 + 0 7. Slavers% + 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8. Thieves 0 - - - + + 0 0 + + 9. Assassins 0 - - - + + 0 0 + + 10. Embassies + - - - + 0 0 0 + +
* Customs dislike the guilds because they aren’t above selling their goods on the black market. % Slavers like the Guilds as good customers!
Hopefully the above will be enough to get your cauldron bubbling and give your players a backdrop to work against. Or to work against them! Have fun.
A Brief Word From Johnn
New Contest – Game World Organizations
Seeing as how this week’s article is about crafting organizations for your worlds, this will be the theme of a fun new contest! To enter, send in organisation ideas, as per the guidelines below. Multiple submissions are welcome and I’ll be publishing entries in a future edition for everyone’s benefit and use!
- A complete set of Larry Elmore: New Beginnings Collector Art Cards
- A complete set of the Forbidden Arcana PDFs
By Philip J. Reed / Ronin Arts
- 3 GM Mastery: NPC Essentials PDFs
By Johnn Four
- 3 Roleplaying Tips GM Encyclopedia eBooks
Saturday, March 6th, 2004, Midnight MT
To enter, email me one or more group or organization concepts in the following format:
- Group name
- Membership details (Who belongs or can join?)
- Group purpose (Why does the group exist?)
- Plot hook, conflict, or story ideas
- The Blind Beggars. A social club for wealthy merchants to collude and make secret details out of sight from the law. Members meet during late afternoons at the Silver Saucer Cafe to play cards. They use card codes and game-speak to make their deals while maintaining the appearance of a public social gathering. Captain Remdon of the City Guard has his suspicions and wishes to hire the PCs to reveal the merchants’ plotting. He hopes one of the PCs will pose as a wealthy merchant, new to town, to infiltrate the group while the other PCs observe and investigate through other methods.
- The Royal Ministry of Tax & Revenue. Responsible for setting, collecting, and managing taxes, tariffs, and fees, this group is extremely valuable to the Queen as it provides her the funds for maintaining her war against the barbarians. It’s said that agents purposely let smugglers in and out sometimes so they can determine who the Big Fish are–the bulk buyers and sellers. Currently, the Ministry is being pressured by the Cutlers’ Guild to get to the bottom of a recent rash of counterfeit–and substandard–knives and forks. It’s peak tax season though, but the Cutler guild leader is the Queen’s cousin so the Ministry is being forced to deal with the situation.
Entries should between 25 and 250 words. Multiple entries are welcome to give you a greater chance of winning. Send entries to: [email protected]
(Feel free to let me know your prize preferences too.)
Anyone Use Eudora 6?
I’m thinking of switching over to Eudora 6 for the PC. It looks like it has superior spam filtering and email handling. I get about 850 spams a day and often a legitimate email or two gets trashed with the others. I’m hoping a superior email client like Eudora would help prevent that from happening. Do any of you use Eudora 6 for PC? What are your thoughts about it?
Attention Game Publishers & Companies:
THIS SPACE FOR RENT
Do you have a gaming relating product that you’d like to tell 13,000 Game Masters about? Put your information and links here! The GM subscribers to this ezine have been very supportive of advertisers in the past and are open to learning more about your products, especially if they’re useful to roleplayers.
Contact me for rate information or if you have any questions: [email protected]
The RoleplayingTips GM Encyclopedia
THE ULTIMATE GMing REFERENCE TOOL
Need advice fast? Inbox full? Hard Drive crashed?
Missing valuable Roleplaying Tips issues? Fear not!
4 years, 200 issues, 2200+ tips, all sorted for you
by Issue#, Tip Topic, Type Of Tip, and more.
For information, screen shots, and ordering info
click here: https://www.roleplayingtips.com/encyc/
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Creating Sympathy For The Devil
I’m sure that we have all faced a memorable villain for whom we have felt regret for slaying. The thing is, how do you get players sympathize with the antagonist?
Here are a few ideas:
- Have common goals with the PCs
- Have suffered the same as the PCs
- Is a relative to one of the PCs
- Is a former friend, colleague, schoolmate, lover
- Sends part of his treasure or earnings to a town, church, or institution
- Is not responsible for his actions (possessed, blackmailed, dominated)
- Has a family
- Is a former hero, king, general, etc. who was recognized for being good
- Is good, sometimes too good, and factions face each other due to circumstances
- Is honorable
Some quotes I took from the GMMastery list:
- Villains are the heroes in their own stories
- Villains have redeeming qualities (mercy, generosity, loyalty)
- Villains are people too–they laugh and cry, hope and fear, and if you poke them they…well most of the time, bleed
I have seen some groups who, after defeating the antagonist, are not sure what to do with him to the point of some PCs defending him against the rest of the party.
So, what other things can you do so your players empathize with the villain? And how do you give the PC information about the villain so they can empathize with him? It’s easy to make villains that the PCs will grow to hate, but its more difficult to make someone that they love.
From Steve Comrie
I was recently thinking of introducing an assassin to my campaigns who would (as his orders state) start to torment a particular player by first poisoning his horse. I wanted to leave a unique, meaningful calling card for the assassin and decided to look for a particular symbol to use, and lo- and-behold guess what I stumbled across?
1000s of symbols and their meanings, cross-referenced by image type as well as meaning.
The site could come in handy for any DM who wants to add meaningful symbols to their campaign to puzzle their players.
Hidden Roll Method
From Mark M.
I had an idea sparked by the Hidden Rolls method. My players believe that you should roll the dice at the time you need to make the roll. That is, no one wants to pre-roll any saving throws or attack rolls – they want to do it in the moment.
I agree. This adds to excitement.
So, when I need them to make a skill check that they would not be sure they made or not, such as picking a pocket or detecting a scrying attempt, I have everyone give that person their d20s, and he rolls all of them. Before he rolls, I mentally note which one counts.
That way the player gets to roll and can almost never be sure he succeeded or failed by looking at the dice (unless he rolls them all very high, or very low – but when you are dealing with 7d20, the odds of that are low.)
Thanks for the ezine and keep up the good work.
Politics And Adventurers
From Mark Moncrieff
Once the PCs obtain a degree of political power the issue of other adventurers can become very interesting. Some ideas I’ve run with and have worked are having two or more adventuring parties arrive in the party’s area of responsibility (castle, keep, town, whatever). In my case a guild master had died and all of the candidates hired adventurers to push their cause. How do the PCs keep this under control?
Another idea is to give the PCs so many responsibilities that they have to hire other adventurers to do part of their job. Players love the idea of being in control of other adventurers. Also, every 3 months or so (real time), have them see other adventurers doing something. They don’t even have to interact with them, but it makes your world seem much more real when they see other adventurers doing something like what they do.
From Dean Martin
I’ve been the GM for seven years on the same campaign. The group consists of 6 players who always come to my house to play. As a treat for the guys, I put out a newsletter after every game to give them some background information about the world they play in, NPCs they may have met, locations they may have heard about, etc.
Anyway, I held a little contest for the guys just before last Christmas to give the newsletter a name. The Morvia Campaign Newsletter was just too boring. To give them a little incentive, I said the player who creates the name chosen as the title would win two free tickets to see Lord of The Rings: Return of the King. Well, you can imagine the amount of ideas that flooded in. Now we have a great name for the newsletter (The Ink & Quill) and it was my small way of giving thanks to the guys for their efforts as players and for their enthusiasm. I plan to do this again in the future.