For the Pathfinder role-playing game, the Adventure Path (series) Kingmaker is famed as a semi-sandbox collection of stories that start with exploration of monster-haunted wilds and move into settling the countryside, domain management, and the establishment of a new kingdom under the stewardship of the players. Veteran adventure gamers will, of course, recognize this as an old conceit: In early Dungeons & Dragons games, experienced adventurers eventually settled down, gained minor titles, and built castles, temples, wizard towers and thieves' guilds. This system was even heavily codified in the D&D Companion Set, part of the series of boxed versions of the game that were made specifically easy to learn but with a lot of long-term campaigning.
Kingmaker features its own domain management system, naturally. Once the heroes have eradicated some bandits and monsters, established a frontier fortification, and started putting the local rule of law into action, they construct a kingdom of their own. This system was updated in Pathfinder's Ultimate Campaign sourcebook, and it's available online as well. It is, shall we say, "fiddly." Like many of Pathfinder's systems, it's built with an abundance of details and a lot of record-keeping. In some way's it's like playing Civilization, except without a computer to help keep track of everything -- at least, out of the box.
(For this entry I'll leave aside the issues of colonization, settling "wilderness" that is usually not wilderness, and how would-be adventurers in history managed to die of starvation because they just assumed that other people would be around to grow food. These are real issues, but Kingmaker pretty much pretends they don't exist for the sake of the fantasy narrative, in much the same way that the hit point systems of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder assume that sucking chest wounds and septic abdominal wounds don't exist for the sake of the fantasy narrative.)
Now, once adventurers have settled in and decided to make their own kingdom, they have the opportunity to set up their own bureaucracy. Great! Who's going to be in charge? How are things going to run? Well, the kingdom-building system assumes a few things:
1. It's a kingdom. Unless you want to use optional rules. In which case, it's almost certainly going to be an autocratic near-kingdom or a republic.
2. There are a ton of jobs to do and you basically can't get away with anything less than having a huge roster of people. The default material assumes that you potentially have a Ruler, Ambassador, Consort, Councilor, General, Grand Diplomat, Heir, High Priest, Magister, Marshal, Royal Enforcer, Spymaster, Treasurer, Viceroy and Warden. Notably, this is way more than a typical four-person adventuring group will be able to fill out on their own.
3. When you start building towns via the mini-SimCity systems, you are making human towns with houses, inns, taverns, foundries, graveyards, and so on.
So what if you don't want an autocratic monarchy? Or you want a theocracy where the head of state is also the head of the church? (The campaign rules for Pathfinder assume that a theocracy runs . . . well, kinda like the popular U.S. conception of Iran, with head of state but also a separate head of the church whose approval is crucial for the head of state.) Or you want a nation of dwarves? As written you can't really do that. Of course, there are only so many pages in a book! But the word count for my posts is limited only by my ability to type and fill up internet space, so let's take a crack at expanding on some of their ideas.
For this entry, we'll take a look at some alternative forms of governments.
Note: This is not an endorsement or critical examination of any of the forms of government very roughly sketched out below.
In the campaign system's optional rules, you can have an autocracy, a magocracy, an oligarchy, an overlord, a republic, a secret syndicate, or a theocracy. Each of these carries with it certain modifiers to your kingdom. Unsurprisingly, cultural biases are at work, and republics have the best bonuses. There are a few head-scratchers as well -- a magocracy or theocracy can't actually have the ruler also be the magister or high priest? The difference between an autocrat and and overlord seem to be some kind of descriptive text about being a conqueror vs. popular acclaim? You can have a republic but never actually hold elections? Time to see what we can come up with! (Note that, as with all my posts, this is all scratch work. Don't expect this to be "perfectly tuned and balanced game systems." This is supposed to be inspirational, for thinking about in your own campaigns so that you can make your own additions.)
The table below summarizes some new ideas on what kinds of governments you might have! Entries in italics are new.
|Autocracy||Single ruler with unlimited power, but potentially replaceable in this context. Could include benevolent monarchs.||None||An autocrat can make a roll for one of the other leadership positions, except Consort or Heir, once per upkeep phase. Note that this does not prevent the vacancy penalty.|
|Constitutional Monarchy||Monarchy with a constitution that restricts the monarch’s scope of powers, with an elected parliament. (A form of republic.)||Law +2, Productivity +1, Society —1.||Your Viceroy and Councilor positions are filled by election rather than appointment. This may involve making a Charisma check to sway elections, or a series of adventures in campaigning for candidates.|
|Despotism (formerly called Overlord)||A specific kind of autocrat who rules by fiat and threat of force, and prohibits any other person or group from acquiring power.||Corruption +1, Crime —1, Law +1, Society —1.||Anyone who substitutes for the Ruler (such as the Consort or Heir) suffers a —4 penalty on checks to avoid Unrest for taking Ruler actions.|
|Dwarven Craft Monarchy||Rule by a monarch who oversees a council of advisory craft guilds.||Law +1, Lore —1, Productivity +3, Society —2.||25% reduction to build costs for Dwarf Tunnels (described next entry), Foundries, and Smithies.|
|Elven Gerontocracy||Rule by the oldest among elves.||Law +1, Lore +2, Productivity —1, Society —1.||25% reduction to build costs for Elven Homes (described next entry), Herbalists, and Parks.|
|Fascism||Collaboration between wealthy interests and political leaders to form a single ruling group that purges all dissent.||Corruption +2, Crime -1, Law +1, Lore -2, Loyalty +2, Productivity +1, Society -3.||Every Foreign Quarter in your kingdom causes +1 Unrest. Whenever your General, Royal Enforcer, or Spymaster fails a kingdom check, there is a 25% chance of a purge, which results in the death or exile of one non-Ruler leader (chosen at random).|
|Magocracy||Rule by a powerful magician or magicians.||Lore +2, Productivity —1, Society —1.||The positions of Ruler and Magister may be filled by the same individual with no penalties. 25% reduction in build cost for Alchemists, Caster’s Towers and Magical Academies.|
|Military Dictatorship||Rule by the head of the military, backed by the power of the military.||Corruption +1, Law +1, Lore —3, Productivity +1, Society —2.||The positions of Ruler and General may be filled by the same individual with no penalties. 25% reduction to build costs for Barracks, Garrisons, and Watchtowers.|
|Oligarchy||Rule by a group of councilors or guild masters.||Corruption +1, Law —1, Lore —1, Society +1.||25% reduction to build costs for Bureaus, Exotic Artisans, Guildhalls, Luxury Stores, Markets, and Trade Shops.|
|Representative Democracy||Elected officials represent groups of people. (A form of republic.)||Crime —1, Law —1, Productivity +1, Society +1.||You must hold regular elections. The Ruler can be deposed by an unsuccessful election (typically navigated with a Charisma check, possibly adventures related to campaigning).|
|Secret Syndicate||A secret group holds power behind a figurehead or even under pretense of anarchy.||Corruption +1, Crime +1, Law —3, Productivity +1.||25% reduction to build costs for Arenas, Black Markets, Guildhalls, Taverns, Tenements, and Waterfronts.|
|Theocracy||Rule by a direct church authority.||Corruption —1, Law +1, Lore +1, Society —1.||The positions of Ruler and High Priest may be filled by the same individual with no penalties. 25% reduction in build costs for Cathedrals, Shrines and Temples.|
|Transitional Communist State||Governing state attempting to break down the capital collection of the bourgeoisie and educate the proletariat for eventual transition to total communism.||Corruption +1, Law +1, Productivity +1.||You may not build Noble Villas. Once per turn your Ruler may substitute for a check for another leader. This may or may not migrate at some time to a total communist society, which is left in the hands of your GM.|
A few other little notes about some of these entries:
Constitutional Monarchy: In simple terms, this is basically a kingdom that has a magna carta. Of course, if the monarch is powerful, this might be nothing more than a piece of paper that doesn't actually guarantee anything -- but that would be closer to despotism or autocracy that pretends to be a constitutional monarchy. GMs, you may wish to allow an autocracy to transition to a constitutional monarchy and have the Ruler make a Loyalty check; if successful, reduce Unrest by 4. Trying to transition back automatically adds 4 Unrest back, no roll. (Obviously, players who try to do lots of government switching in order to exploit characteristics wind up just throwing their domain into anarchy.)
Dwarven Craft Monarchy: Basically, a monarchy where the advisory council consists of leaders of various clans, each of which controls one aspect of production. Kind of a monarcho-syndicalism. Doesn't have to be dwarven but this fits closely to many ideas about dwarves in mainstream fantasy.
Elven Gerontocracy: Strictly speaking, you could use this to just represent a gerontocracy (rule by the oldest), but elves in fantasy literature often have these kinds of semi-egalitarian systems of ancient, wise leaders from the dawn of time.
Fascism: In general, running a fascist government is pretty much an evil act -- fascist governments circumvent usual legal systems (they have no faith in courts of law) and prompt the creation of "state enemies lists" that lead to suffering for anyone who's not part of the "in group." The Law bonus is because they are draconian for the average person, but the Corruption bonus is because they also foster lots of backroom deals and special treatment for well-connected people.
Military Dictatorship: Very close to despotism, in that the threat of force is essentially how the leader gets things done. Unlike a despotism, joining the military may be possible for members of the public at large, and a potential route to advancement and power; the leader's military cohorts are pretty much going to fill all advisory roles.
Representative Democracy: This kind of thing ("republic") always gets included because players like making fantasy versions of "liberal Western democracies" in their RPGs. In the original campaign material you can have a republic without having elections, which seems like it is a republic in name only (banana republic, perhaps).
Transitional Communist State: Well, in the real world nobody's actually made it out of this form of government and over to total communism, but this is a fantasy game, so why not try? Presumably some wizard with a 25 Intelligence and a bunch of ranks in Knowledge (Nobility) could derive ideas that might lead to this. Whether you can achieve it or whether you need to use magic to create this is basically up to the GM.
Also, this doesn't include some of the really outre fantasy things you could do, like magically-enforced mental domination despotism, in which the despot mind-controls everyone in the domain; or necrogarchy, rule by the dead or undead, possibly with a necromancer-monarch whose citizens are mostly zombies. Plus, there are plenty of cases of governments that say they are one thing but are actually something else, and there's not really any system allowance for that -- a core Pathfinder example would be Razimir, the nation ruled by a wizard who pretends to be a god and has a priesthood (actually more wizards) and styles the kingdom a theocracy.
Next time 'round, I'll roll out some ideas for how to theme your settlements and buildings to create a traditional "elvish" or "dwarvish" themed nation.