Friday, November 13, 2015

How Important are Nations / States / Kingdoms in You Campaigns?

I had some thoughts earlier today (later today my thoughts were all distracted.) Just how important are Nations / States / Kingdoms in your campaigns? Do borders matter? Do customs change from one location to another? Does currency source matter (is foreign currency treated as legal currency?)

I find in my campaigns that I like the idea of various nations but when the campaign kicks off, that all fades to the background.

What happens in your campaigns?


  1. Backdrop. Maybe it will come to the fore if the players start doing things that push it to the fore, but until then, backdrop.

  2. Different money in different areas if I can manage it. Different general layouts to cities. Some trades/business operate differently or not at all. Different social structures (but usually comes off as different names for different social classes).

  3. For me, it matters.....and I use that data to frame the scenario. How much of it becomes relevant to the players depends on their interest and whether they seek more details out/get involved/realize that kingdom forging is something they can do in my games if they're willing to put in the effort. I'd call it "canonically consistent background fluff" most of the time...but it seems to appeal to a lot of my players so they push to learn more and get involved.

    That said, stuff like that doesn't come up often if it's a dungeon crawl. But I only run dungeon crawls when I'm feeling lazy.

  4. Well so far in my current campaign my players have gone from southern England (home country), popped across the channel to Calais, rode a Hanseatic league merchant vessel to the free Hanseatic city of Hamburg, rode up through Denmark, and have just crossed the sea into Norway and have angered a minor noble in his castle. The culture of these areas is pretty well within the same group, though once they get further north into Elven lands things will begin to feel more different. And they are still at the level where they are mainly dealing with peasants, so politics hasn't yet crept into the equation, though language barriers are kind of an interesting challenge for those in the party without blood ties to Norway.

    Long story short, to me the national boundaries will become important as the characters become more important. Though if they manage to travel to the middle east or farther, culture shock will rapidly become a thing for them.

  5. In my default house rules I've actually gone to quite a bit of trouble defining the size and complexity of various nation-level structures. Although this is more of a nature flow on of applying level to everything. So at 12th level (technically the maximum level) a "king" rules a "kingdom," which is generally considered to be a people or tribe (and is thus to some measure a culturally distinct entity). However this is a *lot* smaller than most modern players would consider to be a kingdom. A good example would be the Kingdom of Logres (essentially the Thames valley and tributaries). The next step up (13th level) is the high kingdom, which is composed of a number of people with the same general cultural heritage. Continuing this example we have the High Kingdom of England (which is composed of the Kingdoms of Logres, Cambria [Wales], Cumbria, Wessex, and Cornwall [although the later two are actually principalities]), which is ruled by a High King. As you can see, each of these regions actually has an identifiable cultural traits, although they share a fairly common cultural identity. Going further, at 14th level we have a Great Kingdom ruled by a sovereign Great King. Great Britain (+) is an example of a Great Kingdom being composed of the High Kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland. The members of a Great Kingdom have related but distinct cultural identities. There are usually reasons for why they are pushed together but they could also happily go their own way. This is also the interface state between kingdoms and empires and generally only made possible through the existence of a royal bureaucracy rather than through direct fealty and homage to the Great King (or rather homage tends to be sworn to each individual pointy hat the Great King wears for being the High King of England, Scotland, and Ireland individually).

    Empires (15th to 17th level) are the next step up and are identified by possessing an imperial bureaucracy that runs them since they are often composed of lots of separate kingdoms (ordinary, high, and great) that don't necessarily share any common cultural heritage. Homage to an Empire is direct to the Emperor and administered through the Imperial Bureaucracy rather than nobility (although the nobility inevitably have important rolls in the bureaucracy. Seventeenth Century France is a Small Empire (even if it ruled by a King and culturally could be defined as a Great Kingdom), because it is done so through the royal bureaucracy. The Holy Roman Empire is a Medium Empire, and Imperial Rome is a Large Empire.

    Going the other direction (11th level) we have Principalities whose rulers are sovereign Princes, but who often share a common cultural heritage with neighbouring principalities. Rome itself, like most of the Italian City States, is probably a principality, at least in the beginning. [Because principalities share a common cultural background it is relatively easy for them to combine to form Kingdoms, so the history of the Italian City States,especially in the north, is one of Principalities combining with their neighbours to form Kingdoms for a while but which split backup into the traditional principalities when they dissolve.

    Thinking in this way predisposes one to start thinking of different kingdoms as being culturally distinct and putting in place cultural identifiers that differentiate between different peoples.

    1. At the beginning this is basically background for the players, but as they increase in level they get closer to the situations where they begin to interact with the kingdom level of play more closely. Beneath 5th level interaction with the kingdom level is negligible, although it is quite likely that kingdom-level actions will affect players. [Congratulations, you've been impressed!]. Above 4th level the players will have hopefully have a vested interest in a kingdom. Above 8th level the players will definitely have a vested interest in a kingdom and be operating at a level where they will affect and can affect the neighbouring kingdoms. [If you are a March Lord/Marquis (9th level) you will naturally be very concerned with borders, for example. A Duke (10th level) will naturally be concerned with neighbours (after all the basis of "duke" is the Latin "dux" for war leader. Etcetera.]

      That's the political game, but it's not the only game in town.

      I, and most of my friends who play my games, have a natural tendency to be explorers, traders and world-travellers. They tend to travel and encounter these strange new cultures and often bring back souvenirs. For that to work properly there needs to be an identifiable difference when you travel. Sure you could just adventure in Aquilonia all your life but where is the excitement in that? How can you see the temples of far Khitai or the magnificence of Ophir? What would the typical Vancian travelogue be without differences? This is the power of such places as Runequest's Glorantha and Powers & Peril's Perilous Lands. Adventurers should travel and see these strange places and sights and bring back tales of the weird and fantastic. What would the Tales of the Arabian Nights be like if they just happened in your backyard?

      [My one naval game naturally bridged the two styles of game, since there was a strong nationality element (you're in the navy), but also you're in a ship (and ship's travel). This was a fantasy game base on Star Trek btw. With Star Fleet replaced by the Church of the Goddess which was the unifying meme amongst the innumerable petty human states (and one bunch of elvish exiles that tended to remain relatively isolated).]

      In the political game borders are important. If only because it is what makes the difference between a Marquis and a Count. They are also sources of taxes that keep things running. The distinction between a Port and a Harbour is that a Port is where foreign trade enters and leaves a country. If it comes in through a Harbour it's called smuggling, which whilst it might be profitable for the smugglers it isn't so much for the kings and they tend to look unkindly on it.

    2. Wealth. Well I have a standard (the silver penny, twelve of which is worth a gold penny). Most places have a penny, but actually make coins of a wide variety of denominations. For example a "sovereign" (what most people would consider an actual gold coin to be) is actually 20 gold pennies in weight.

      In fact, following medieval tradition many towns will have their own mint and strike their own silver coinage. And generally require you to use their coinage if you do business with them. And they exchange them at face value, even if they heavily debased. Merchants get around this by exchanging money at the appropriate rates at trade fairs for people doing business there. But it still depresses trade so kings tend to object to it, since a king's personal wealth is often drawn directly from trade.

      One of the reasons that the minting of gold coins tends to be an imperial and royal preserve is that these are more often used in international trade and thus have to be more reliable than silver coinage.

      Most large transactions are by weight of coin and measured by scales. Most people will be hesitant to accept coins that they don't know the metal content of, so will direct people who have discovered hoards of old coins discovered buried in the back garden by their sainted old great-great-great grandmother to a moneylender, banker, or coin exchange.

      [You have to understand that kings and nobles tend to claim any treasure found in *their* lands as being theirs and tax it appropriately (I'll ive you a 10% finders and recovery fee).]

      And there is always the possibility that particular coins might be valuable to a antiquarian collector.

      It may not be to everyone's taste but a lot of fun can be had at this level. But it does operate at a much broader scope than most games (which generally stick within their own little kingdom.

      [Sorry for the length]

  6. My entire Against the Giants campaign is all about the kingdom (or Duchy), so it's pretty integral to the story that's unfolded over the 181 sessions we've played.

    I think they'll always played some part in my longer games, but usually just as part of the scenery, part of the travel and exploration.

  7. Depends on the campaign, some have been pretty deeply enmeshed with local politics others are more wandering adventurer games. My current one is hexcrawlly and will slowly start to drag in more nations and politics but right now is exploration and monster fighting.

  8. I always want such to matter in my game but my players don't care so it never lasts.

  9. I use Harn. The kingdoms all have the same basic culture, language, and monetary system but they have clear personalities. I have them scheming, a lot, when they aren't at war. So it's a big deal.

  10. Depends on the location. Aegypt, Babylon, and Sung are muy important. The Atlantlan kingdoms not so much, after a few millenniums where they meant something.

    Among the 5 Kingdoms Lyoness is a religious center, Cymru a small place, Caledonia a hard place, Hibernia a land of many peoples, and Albion is the core. France is also important and many things, and Brettony a land over much trouble over Albion and France.

    Though for individuals even small places mean a lot.


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