View Full Version : [GMs] How do you make interesting Nations/Governments?

2012-05-06, 01:03 AM
I'm trying to create an interesting world where there are about eleven small states, of dubious internal stability, feuding and allying with one another for power, land, ascendancy, survival, you name it, a few hundred years after the collapse of a region-spanning empire.

This made me realize I don't really have a great idea on how to create interesting nations/governments. How do all of you make interesting governments that don't seem like cookie-cutter copies from RL, lend themselves to internal conflict and quests, and genuinely stand out as excellent parts of your campaign settings?

Feel free to just describe creations of yours as well!

I'd love to lead off the thread with an example of my own... but I'm too new and boring a DM. :smallfrown:

2012-05-06, 01:15 AM
Step 1: Are you a political scientist, a historian, an economist, or an English major?

The best way to design interesting worlds (and governments too) is to focus on a subject area you find interesting. As a polisci guy, my governments are mostly described as how they relate to each other (e.g. wars, foreign policies) and how they are run (i.e. government type). If you were a historian or an English major focusing on culture and history would probably help you bring your nations to life. Economists, of course, thrive on trade and industry -- what does the country make, what does it need and how does it get it?

Step 2: Read these (http://www.giantitp.com/articles/BTDwdGM3lHRAL64zojo.html) articles (http://www.giantitp.com/articles/lCDTGczIJgTuKODhzCa.html).

They'll give you a good foundation.

* * *

I'm a serial world-builder so I've designed countless civilizations by now. Some of my best came from simple questions ("what would a nation built by immortal reincarnating LG entities look like?") but you can make do with pure imitation (see Song of Ice & Fire) or themes. Need a pirate nation? Make a pirate nation! Yes, there are ways to make your nations more "realistic" but that is only worth it if (a) you are interested in the studies of nations and (b) you have Players who care about it.

Me? I make sure that my pirate nations exist along logical lanes of commerce and none of the other powers has the ability to police the seas simply because I get satisfaction out of doing so. My Players barely notice, although I get the sense that they subconsciously buy into my nations more as a result. Still, they have plenty of fun being plopped into a random feudal state surrounded by barbarians too.

Also: your initial question is far too broad. Read Rich Burlew's articles on world-building and see if you can narrow it down a bit more than "I'd like a world with 11 nations in conflict" :smalltongue:

2012-05-06, 01:29 AM
Honestly? I just look at real life governments from history and take the most unusual examples by which most everyday people would be surprised. Some examples:

Ancient Sparta was ruled by two hereditary kings, with lesser control held by a council of elders (most of whom were connected to one of the two monarchical houses). Dual monarchies are unexpected, and if in your setting it's a long-lasting, stable government, your players will be surprised too.

Independent city-states each ruled by their own small governments have banded together into a strong alliance out of desperation (e.g. foreign invasion, famine, etc), despite mutual suspicion. A good example would be the Lombard League of northern medieval Italy, which formed in response to expansion by the Holy Roman Empire (Germany).

Other Ideas:

A city consisting entirely of doppelgangers and changelings, where the true rulers are not any individuals but the grandest buildings (castle, cathedral, university, guildhall). The doppelgangers/changelings merge their consciousness into the building of their choice upon death, and the buildings each serve as the patriarch/leader of their political party. This city thus develops a keen focus on establishing identities in ways that can't be faked by shapeshifting or voice mimicry (e.g. passcards, secret codes, etc), and politics becomes more focused on locations and property than on key individuals and power players.

A landless nation/race that most countries historically distrust now functions as the perfect neutral party. Effectively, the rulers freely rely upon this group's intellectual elite, because the rulers know this elite can never hold political power, as the general populace fears them so much that the current government is the group's only protector. Further, as a stateless and politically powerless group, crossing national boundaries is less troublesome, as they have no true stake in most of those battles, leading this community/race to excel as international merchants and diplomats. Good races to use could be elan, kalashtar, warforged or even mind flayers.

I've always been curious about how a city of mostly Warforged, golems and other constructs would function. Food, water and other essentials become irrelevant, so what becomes the focus of daily life? Also, how would politics work in such a mechanical group? How would such a city relate to its neighbors?

2012-05-06, 01:38 AM
Conflict of any kind often stems from a conflict of interest, whether it be material, ideological, or something else. So start by developing some idea of what each nation is like and what it wants.

Also keep in mind that larger social structures, like nations, tend to be less ideological. A theocracy or dictatorship might be able to swing it, but most others are often too taxed or simply don't care. Smaller structures, like rebel groups, can afford ideologies, however.

Another point to keep in mind is "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." If the leaders of a developed nation can do so with little cost to themselves, they'll attempt to rally support from other nations. Historically, this sort of scenario creates webs of alliances, and a nation or two with ties to opposing sides makes excellent fuel for the political fire.

I recommend reading Sun Tzu's "The Art of War (http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html)" if you feel like you need a little inspiration.

2012-05-06, 05:13 AM
While I, myself, am of little utility in this regard (I'm not so good myself), I have read a very enlightening essay on another forum that may help you craft interesting societies and governments.


2012-05-06, 05:34 AM
In this post (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=242094) there is a concept that I personally find interesting: a city where infants are analyzed through magical means at 9-11 years of age to find out whether they have Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma scores higher than 10. If they have, they undergo training in a spellcaster class that matches their potential. If they don't, then they become second-class citizens, excluded from the government and devoted mainly to physical labor.

Basically, they believe that magic (arcane or divine, it does not matter) is an absolute power, and only those able to master it deserve to rule. The city could be a power to reckon with: in a D&D-like fantasy setting, an army of spellcasters is able to obliterate any "regular" army, especially if some high-level wizards are thrown into the lot.

The city might be too small and lack the ambition to conquer a kingdom: but maybe nearby nations could hire the spellcasters, from time to time, to solve particularly nasty businesses (dragons?). Also, maybe the sons of nobility of other nations could be sent to the city to learn, as some sort of prestige academy.

Not only, but given the amount of magic at its disposal, the city could very well be some sort of Tippyverse (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=222007) on a small scale.

It's a little bit weird, because most of the spellcaster classes are supposed to be for PCs, but if you keep the city reasonably small, it could become really interesting. Also, you could use NPC casters (Adepts, Magewrights, and something else for Charisma).

The city starts from the assumption that everyone can learn magic. But what if it is not true? Some might have the potential (high mental stat) but lack the ability to learn. This could create a middle-class of bureaucrats, diplomats, advisers and so forth.

2012-05-06, 05:40 AM
I'm actually working on building an island city right now in-campaign, using the Stronghold Builder's guide. It'll probably take me a few more weeks of real-time to get the whole thing worked out and running, but if you'd like I can PM you the 30 page document when it's ready for first revision.

Minus the maps, of course.

2012-05-06, 06:09 AM
We have a thread for this (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=227507).

Not too much on this specific subject, but it's well organized so you can get right to the sections that might be of interest to you.

2012-05-06, 07:54 AM
I can't say that i've created an intricate political system for any if my campaigns (yet anyway), but I imagine I would use processes similar to the one's i use to create broad/general governments. Start with assumptions and questions. Is the government racially or idealogically dominated? What are the key resources of the region where this government is located? What sorts of things do you find interesting and want to incorporate?

As an example, in my current setting a part of the continent is dominated by warforged because they were the 'victors' (more like the last ones standing) and the last great conflict in the aptly named age of conflict. Initially, they were a powerful hivemind of machines under the control of an artifcer and had the ability to rebuild themselves by harvesting parts from fallen comrades but after the war, which is shrpuded in mystery in yhe current age, the warfprged became what they are now. With sentience and without a leader, they constructed their own god out of the remainder of the ancient hive husks. Due to their collective origin, each warforged can faintly sense the presence of others and their forged god responds to the subconscious will of all warforged, good and bad. If the majority of warforged crave conquest, it becomes a juggernaut. If most want peace, it becomes a repository of knowledge. Many warforged are highly devoted to this machine and a theocracy erupted around it. However, the different factions of warforged seek to make the machine bend to tehir will and there's an arms race going on, not with weapons, but with people. It os extremely difficult to create a single warfprged from scratch, so they tru to convince organics to join them in becoming warforged (this is in 4e so i'm developing a multiclass feat tree for it in case my players want to), some by promising peace and unity and others by force.

With that stuff in mind, i'm able to extrapolate the little stuff. Warforged generally don't have well developed stealth units since they can all "feel" each other, so they prefer the disciplined, overwhelming force approach to combat. No warforged ever feels outnumbered if they believe in the cause and are therefore very confident. So the government is a plain faced, military theorcracy

2012-05-06, 07:33 PM
In [URL="http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=242094"]
Basically, they believe that magic (arcane or divine, it does not matter) is an absolute power, and only those able to master it deserve to rule. The city could be a power to reckon with: in a D&D-like fantasy setting, an army of spellcasters is able to obliterate any "regular" army, especially if some high-level wizards are thrown into the lot.

Let me correct you there. I think maybe you misunderstood what I was going for. They don't believe that magic is the be all and end all, they just believe that the stupid, unwise, and so on shouldn't be in charge.

You're free to abandon the academy as soon as you cast your first cantrip and go do something else. Basically everyone from there has one of those background feats that grants you a spell-like ability usable 1/day.

So yes, there are warblades, swashbuckers as so on who are citizens. Just don't expect your average idiot orc to be running for government.

Basically their nation is a nation where 5 idiots can't outvote the 2 geniuses, because the idiots have no rights. Which unlike saying black people, or women or so on shouldn't have rights, is an argument that one can make a legit debate about in politics. Or at least that's what I hope happens, I'm really hoping to split the party in two during this campaign, just hope it doesn't come to blows.

2012-05-07, 10:04 AM
Let me correct you there. I think maybe you misunderstood what I was going for. They don't believe that magic is the be all and end all, they just believe that the stupid, unwise, and so on shouldn't be in charge.

You're free to abandon the academy as soon as you cast your first cantrip and go do something else. Basically everyone from there has one of those background feats that grants you a spell-like ability usable 1/day.

So yes, there are warblades, swashbuckers as so on who are citizens. Just don't expect your average idiot orc to be running for government.

Basically their nation is a nation where 5 idiots can't outvote the 2 geniuses, because the idiots have no rights. Which unlike saying black people, or women or so on shouldn't have rights, is an argument that one can make a legit debate about in politics. Or at least that's what I hope happens, I'm really hoping to split the party in two during this campaign, just hope it doesn't come to blows.

Oh, ok! Then, it's even more interesting :-)

But, since it might still be in-topic for Nation/Governments construction, how do they deal with people who are Charismatic but stupid, or unwise? Or wise/intelligent people who are unpleasant and rude? Or any combinations of the three where one of the mental stats is above 10, but the rest below?

2012-05-07, 12:17 PM
Oh, ok! Then, it's even more interesting :-)

But, since it might still be in-topic for Nation/Governments construction, how do they deal with people who are Charismatic but stupid, or unwise? Or wise/intelligent people who are unpleasant and rude? Or any combinations of the three where one of the mental stats is above 10, but the rest below?

Generally you find work that fits your type of intelligent/wise/charismatic. Of course if you're REALLY below the line and keep causing trouble you might end up as a slave anyways. Your 18 charisma isn't going to help you get out of burning down the inn cause you "Saw a spider".

I'll have to work out some of the kinks in the government, but thanks for pointing this out ahead of time.

2012-05-07, 03:55 PM
For your example, here's some things to consider.

1.) Why did the old empire collapse.

There's a large number of possibilities here. Was there a succession war, in which various nobles vying for the throne wound up exhausting the empire until it collapsed? Or was there a peasant revolt that overthrew the throne into anarchy, from which the new nations arose? Did the empire simply grow too flabby and collapsed under it's own weight? These may seem like trivial concepts, but they would play a great part in how the various nations interact. For example, if the empire broke up due to multiple claimants to the throne, then the various leaders might consider themselves the rightful ruler of the entire region. Thus, any war against a neighbor is nothing more than taking what is "theirs" from an interloper.

2.) Does any remnant of the old empire remain? If a segment of the area can claim continuity, however tenuous, with the glory days of the old Empire, that gives it considerable symbolic value.

3.) Where are the resources? This is critical. No matter what the technology base, if there is any kind of limited resource of significant utility, wars will be fought over it.

2012-05-07, 04:01 PM
The easiest solution I can think of (which may not work, depending on what you intend for the setting) is to make all 11 nations both very small (city-states would be ideal) and utterly despotic, so that you can customise a given nation's government system based on the personality of whatever despot rules it. The funny thing about absolute power is that it lets you do anything. One of the nations could have an Empress who is paranoid and ruthless, so laws and customs would reflect that, with highly secretive policies, eyes and ears everywhere, and so on.

To me, the easiest way to create a government when you have no idea how to do so is to create a despotic tyranny and just focus on the despot. Everything else flows from their personality.

2012-05-07, 05:28 PM
When I'm making places up, I generally just start with one or two minute details that strikes my fancy, and extrapolate everything else from there. This is nice, because pretty much no matter what that first idea is, there's pretty much always an interesting stepping stone within reach of reasonable leap of logic.

A lot of people have already said what sort of ideas they like to start with. And that's just scratching the surface. You could consider: culture, trade goods, agriculture, historical figures, weird customs, geography, climate, political system, alignment, history, technology level, race/species, general "feel," local flora/fauna, ideas blatantly stolen from other sources, preferred style of silly hats...

Some things that have worked for me:
-The ruling faction of one city is the remnants of an old military coalition. Years ago, some generic evil force was using powerful magic artifacts to wage war. In a desperate move, the remaining nations formed an alliance so that they'd have a chance to fight back. However, even years after victory was declared, the military council still hasn't given up its power, and they still seek to protect the people by hunting down and locking up any powerful magic artifacts they can find. They keep the people safe, but maybe citizens of them are starting to see them as an oppressive ruler.

-This coastal city is at the mouth of a large river. Therefore, they see a lot of trade going by. Therefore, it's a pretty large, thriving port city. Therefore, there are a lot of illicit goods moving around. That means there's a really shady and busy black market that the guards just can't seem to break up for good. Therefore, it's a pretty chaotic sort of place with hands off law enforcement and a "laissez faire" style of ruler.

-I really like the Nords from Skyrim. But what's up with all the giant tombs? Clearly if you take the time to build elaborate burial chambers instead of doing things like making sure you have food on the, the concept of death must be super important. And why is every damn entombed soldier you find undead? These guys must have some crazy necromancy thing going on. But that would make sense in a land where you've only got a few months to farm enough food to survive a long cold winter, seeing as a skeletal servant is an extra pair of hands helping to feed/protect your family. Now we've got a civilization of badass warrior necromancers from the frozen north who consider being raised as an undead soldier/servant to be one of the highest honors in life. And that's ****in' metal as hell. All hail the Blessed Dead.

2012-05-08, 07:28 AM
In the true spirit of D&D, Roll on a chart.

Roll a die for each catagory and combine, add a naming convention and your good

Government........................Culture......... ..........Economy
Democracy.......................Feudal Japan................Agrarian
Oligarchy.......................Medeval France............Industrial
Communisim..................Rennaisance Italy...........Hunter Gatherer
Dictatorship....................Crusades Middle East........Corporate
Absolute Monarchy............1700's America........... Collapsed
Theocracy.........................Indian.......... ...........Magical
Constitutional Monarchy......Other Indian...........Mining
Republic...........................Aztec/Incan..............No Currency
Tribal............................... Mongol.....................Capitalist
Feudal..............................Viking ....................Socialist
Anarchy...........................African Tribe .............None

Roll twice and combine
Roll thrice and combine

Alternatively, use this chart, roll once in each and combine

Race Culture 1 Culture 2 Culture3
Human______Iroquois___________Victorian England______Conquistadors
Elf___________Sioux___________Inquisition Spain_________Missionaries
Dwarf_______Aztec ____________Colonial America_______Raiders
Halfling______Viking_____________Fallen Rome__________Miners
Orc________African Tribe_________Celtic_______________Farmers
goblin_______Mongol___________Holy Roman__________Mercinaries
Hobgoblin___Tzarist Russia________Athens_____________Pirates
undead______Roman_____________Sparta_____________ Sailors
semi-dead___Greek______________Babylon_____________Smit hs
other _______Egypt_____________Carthage ___________Scientists/mages
____________Arabic______________Inuit_____________ Merchants
____________ Feudal Japan________Wild West_________explorers
_________Warring States China_____Muhgal Empire______Warriors

Roll once in each chart, Mix your favorite elements of culture 1 and culture 2, culture 3 describes their preferred occupation.

(edit made chart readable)

2012-05-08, 09:01 AM
The way I see it is, you don't have to come up with an interesting systems of government or nations.
A story revolves around it's characters, so make them interesting.

For example, make the seventeen year old Duke of Generica a hunchback with a noticeable limp and speech impediment, who was underestimated by his political rivals, the tall and beautiful Countess of Standardaria and the elderly and wise King of Insertnameheria.
Now one is locked in the North Tower of her own castle and the other lies dead at the bottom of a well somewhere.

Interesting characters are more important than interesting places.
For further study, I refer you to many popular works of modern fiction set in a standard feudal society and are highly successful.

2012-05-08, 04:07 PM
All of this is really good advice for worldbuilding, but an important thing to keep in mind is don't waste energy on something the player's are never going to need to, or care to know. Its enough to know that they live in a country ruled by a king, which is currently desperately defending itself from the empire across the mountains.

Maybe they don't even need to know that much, maybe the only thing they need to know is that the town they're in is run by a mayor, but he answers to the Count. Its good to have an idea fleshed out so that if they do become curious you have answers for them, but don't kill yourself creating a beautiful world deep with geopolitical intrigue that's never really going to affect your players.

2012-05-08, 05:50 PM
once you have a very basic outline of what you want a country to look like, and you have all the plot relevent details worked out, there is not much left to do. If you want to go overboard and impersonate JRR Tolkien when designing a country go ahead, but that is usually not necesary. There are shortcuts that take care of any questions that a player asks about potentialy interesting yet not particularly important details.

Here is an example using the system I posted above.
Rolled on a chart:
Got Results
Constitutional Monarchy populated by (Roll)
Vikings with a (Roll)
Mining based Economy that live in a region full of (Roll)

So basics of the country are already done, now it just needs a few details. First and formost, a name. They mine stuff so perhaps the name should be related to some kind of metal. Picking one at random I'm going to go with Iron. I pick a language I think sounds interesting, how about german. German for Iron is Esen. add a generic sound to the end of that, and I get a decent sounding country name Esenhime.

The next major detail is the monarch, I pick a german sounding name and add a roman numeral. King Schrodinger IV. Its a good name for a Germanic/norse type king, and it leaves room for some good jokes later.

Thats it, Its pretty much done. I have a basic nation outlined, it took about 5 minutes. If any detail is missing and I need to fill a gap, odds are there is a custom in either Germany (the source of the language) or the Vikings ( the source of the culture) that will fit the bill.

naming locations is fairly easy too. Take a german (or german sounding)
the capital
Beffelsburg (Beffel being german for command)

other cities

Its easier to borrow elements from other cultures/languages than it is to invent your own.
Picking a foreign language at random will do a lot of you work for you in terms of naming conventions for charecters and cities, and even culture. If you don't speak a foreign language, google translate will help.

2012-05-08, 07:03 PM
Honestly, my favourite way to go about nationbuilding is to steal from the greatest, most in-depth example available: real world history. Recorded history stretches back 12,000 years, and there have been more nation-states between then and now than you can likely remember. So that's where I start, typically... reading a history book or browsing Wikipedia and marking a few articles as interesting ideas I'd like to try my hand at.

Another excellent way to go about building nations is to pick a few themes or stories you think would be enjoyable to explore... for example, I wanted a nation where American horror tropes could come into play, and ended up developing the warring nations of Newumbria and Richmont from there. A nation of dwarves that took an active role in the world became the Kingdom of the Red Mountains, Khazad Röens, a major mercantile nation and industrial powerhouse. Evil elven imperialists? Thalu Tal'Qusail, the Great Elven Empire. You get the idea.

Once you have the theme, everything else should flow from there... what terrain fits best? What is their government type? What are their economics like? What about religion, culture and magic? And then follow the chain down towards cities and towns - dependent on terrain and urbanization - and so on and so forth. You don't have to spend too long on this... many professionally-developed world devote maybe 1500 words in an outline to describe their core nations, and you don't even have to go that far. If you want 11 nations feuding over the same landmass, they'll likely share some culture, technology, and religion with their neighbours, and that seriously cuts down on your build time.

2012-05-09, 12:09 PM
Who rules the City/Nation/Empire now?
Who ruled it a hundred years ago?
Who has power?
Who doesn't have power?
Who almost has power and wishes that they did?
Is the government Good, Bad, inbetween?
Does everyone agree that the government is good, bad or inbetween? (The answer is almost certianly no, but the important point is who thinks what and why.)
What is the dominant race?
Is that Race actually the most populous?
How do the other races fit into the ethnic mix?
What is the dominant religion?
what other religions are there and how do they relate to the dominant religion?

Maybe the government is good, but the police force is totally corrupt.
maybe the church resent the incoming demihuman races for bringing in their less puritanical faiths, which are drawing the faithful away.
Maybe the city is swamped by refugees from a nearby warzone, or from an place where a magical plague has struck, or from another plane of existance...

Make things complicated. because real life is messy and nations, cultures, identities and ideologies are never clear cut. If you have a faction of any sort there should be at least one other faction which thinks the exact opposite, and probably half a dozen in between. creating a world is all about figuring out which of these factions and ideologies have the most power and what the relationships are between them.

2012-05-29, 05:46 PM
In the true spirit of D&D, Roll on a chart.

Race Culture 1 Culture 2 Culture3
Human______Iroquois___________Victorian England______Conquistadors
Elf___________Sioux___________Inquisition Spain_________Missionaries
Dwarf_______Aztec ____________Colonial America_______Raiders
Halfling______Viking_____________Fallen Rome__________Miners
Orc________African Tribe_________Celtic_______________Farmers
goblin_______Mongol___________Holy Roman__________Mercinaries
Hobgoblin___Tzarist Russia________Athens_____________Pirates
undead______Roman_____________Sparta_____________ Sailors
semi-dead___Greek______________Babylon_____________Smit hs
other _______Egypt_____________Carthage ___________Scientists/mages
____________Arabic______________Inuit_____________ Merchants
____________ Feudal Japan________Wild West_________explorers
_________Warring States China_____Muhgal Empire______Warriors

So you could have halfling Mongol Victorian scientists?

I'm not sure how that could work, but it would either be utterly terrible or utterly awesome. (Or possibly terribly awesome. Or awesomely terrible).

Quick - someone needs to flesh out the concept!

Frenth Alunril
2012-05-29, 06:08 PM
actually, I find that my players are (at first) never interested in the world around them, so I make it pretty static and dependable. I come up with a good reason for why the town is there, and then populate it accordingly. If I need to mess with kings and such, then I will, but...

Players tend to get bored with any kind of detail. I have been running the same game for the last 50 odd Saturdays, and they players till have a problem remember the name of head Paladin, or for that matter, where they met.

I guess it depends on your game. There are a lot of ideas up there, good ones, I agree with a lot of them, but remember, if the players don't care, and they aren't going to investigate why the merchant from another nation might have ransacked their pawn shop (actual story, interesting, but unfollowed... will develop) then you just pass it off as a thing that happened.

This brings up an interesting note...

Develop things as they need them. Not before.

A trade war has started in my game, and the players are just now trying to remedy it. It's been a year, and they are all somewhere around level 9, so they are fairly vested in the story now. Had I started with this story line, they would have given up. Now it involves their property and livelihoods, they care.

Sometimes you have to nurture and produce a heart, before you start to wrench it.

PS (on the side here, I would like you to know that I have joined another persons game. It's all political intrigue and there are something like 6 houses that run most of the organizations. I have tried to join one to get some rank and support under myself, the other players have scurried off on their own in some chaotic misinterpretation of our orders, and now we are so divided I don't think the game can go on. Plus, the DM has pushed so much at us, and it is developing so slowly, (and we have to count out our coin in a painstaking manner for food and board (quality counts) or suffer huge penalties to stats) that it is hard to keep any real interest in it. Overly Machiavellian campaigns can be hell on players and dm's alike.

my advice is work with your players to make their stories grand, and once they are vested and understand, start the playing to win.

Doktor Per
2012-05-29, 08:29 PM
How homogeneous do you want your world to be?

Like, take medieval Europe for an example. (Since most of us dudes are probably from the western world) You got big players like France, nations which stand on the cusp between "righteous" and raiders such as Norway, Spain's caught up in it's own thing. The important thing to remember about these times that they weren't so much about the little man and the people (because no one important gave a flying funk about them) but dukes, barons, kings and popes with occasional cardinals. Sure there were the courts, but they almost only existed in a vacuum around these lords. And there they were kind of a big thing, like sir Ronald of Burgundy.

The other thing that will affect the government/nation is resources, threats and history/tradition, which will of course shape the ruler. And you should always assume that counts and barons want to move up and ahead in the chain, unless they are very and truly loyal to their lord, which they only should be if they are naďve, have a good history with their lord's family, connected via marriage and/or through gifts/bribes.

2012-05-29, 09:11 PM
Here's an amazing article, from Dean Shomshak, a writer for Exalted.

Designing made-up societies is a craft, and like any craft you can get better at it. Here is one of the techniques I use in critiquing and designing societies for game settings. I’ll draw examples from Exalted, but what I’m talking about will work for any kind of setting.
Be warned: I draw on a notion I took from a book about history and social science, but I’m not a historian or social scientist. Experts can probably tear all of this apart.
THE GOAL: While world-building can be fun in its own right, the purpose for a game is to create an exciting and memorable setting for the PCs’ adventures. Preferably, for more than one adventure: If you go to the trouble to make a cool setting, you want to get plenty of use from it, yes? And if your players think the setting is cool, they will want to see more of it.
THE PROBLEM: All too often, a game writer had one idea for a society, and didn’t look for a second. The resulting society looks boring or gimmicky or just doesn’t make sense when you look at it closely. Exalted fell into this trap early in 1e, with “gimmick” cultures such as Chaya, Varangia or Paragon, and the setting has struggled to get out ever since.
Even if it’s a cool gimmick, building a society around just one idea limits the stories you can tell about it. Fine, the PCs had a fun adventure coping with the Chayans’ yearly freak-out. Then what?
There’s no sense that a country could be a real place, with people who have lives apart from when the PCs show up. (To use Tolkien’s terminology, it does not inspire secondary belief.) It’s hard to care about such a setting or the people who live in it.
ONE PARTIAL SOLUTION: To make a culture more interesting, start by looking at it from more than one perspective. Real people never lead simple, one-dimensional lives: Neither should the people of your imaginary world.
Then use the different aspects of the society to generate factions and conflicts, both internal and external. These conflicts, in turn, present members of the society with choices — and choices are the stuff of drama. But that’s a subject for another essay.
Lucky for you, social scientists already came up with a set of perspectives by which you can view your made-up society: Social Forces. I learned about them from a course on Introduction to Historical Analysis, and have found them useful. (Specifically, see Carl G. Gustavson, A Preface to History, though I have changed Gustavson’s ideas somewhat.) Examining a society through the filter of each social force won’t guarantee your society is cool, fun and playable, but by Gods, it will work and you will know that society inside and out.
"Social Forces" are ways in which people and groups, including governments, can get things done. There are many specific forms of power, but they fall into (appropriately) five general categories: Political, Economic, Ideological, Military and Technical power. In most societies, all five forces are at work to some degree, but a few may dominate. Look at a society from these perspectives to see how it works, who has power, how they use it and what they want.
POLITICAL power comes first because all other forms of social power comment on it to some degree. Political power is all-pervasive, yet becomes shifty and circular when you look at it closely. In brief, though, this form of power grows out of the social structure itself. Somebody has to make decisions for the society, so societies invent ways to appoint Deciders. Political power is legitimate, in that most people agree that certain individuals have a right to tell the rest what to do. Usually, this act of collective make-believe is so ingrained that nobody notices it. In short, "Do what I say because I am the person who says what to do."
Most importantly, political power is "whoever" power: whoever holds the office, gets the power. If they leave the office, they lose the power. The other social forces tend to create or define their own offices, without regard to pre-existing social structures or notions of legitimacy. Given time, though, power entrenches itself and becomes routine and political. Once an institution appears, its members try to perpetuate it, entrench it in society and maybe even extend its powers. The institutional drive for self-preservation and expansion is another aspect of political power.
Examples of this social force include kinship and hereditary leadership: The authority of parent over child is the first and oldest form of political power. Smaller societies may structure themselves entirely through kinship. Other examples of political social structures include elections, courts and judges, and any sort of social contract. How does your society decide who gives the orders? … Even if these “legitimate” leaders aren’t the people with the real power. What entrenched institutions will resist any attempt to change society? Conversely, what institutions might back a person who seems likely to aggrandize their power?
Case Study: The Scarlet Empire. Her Redness began as utterly illegitimate. She had the biggest beat-stick in Creation, though, and most other institutions were in ruins. She made herself legitimate through the Thousand Mazy Paths of the Realm bureaucracy: Final decisions were not possible without her to resolve bureaucratic conflicts. She also had parental authority over the Scarlet Dynasty, even if this was not explicitly coded into law.
Case Study: The Haslanti League has an explicit political system, consciously designed by the nation’s founders as a social contract between the various city-states and classes of Haslanti society. While the election process is cumbersome, it ensures the many divisions of Haslanti society believe their interests are all represented at the highest level of power.
Case Study: An-Teng’s matriarchal clans are an implicit political structure, maintained by pure tradition. Men ostensibly dominate business and politics… but only so long as their grandmothers allow it. The Three Princes — hereditary monarchs who nominally rule An-Teng — simultaneously show fealty to the Realm and to native traditions through the legal fiction that the Scarlet Empress is the matriarch of their “clan.”
ECONOMIC power is control of the production and distribution of goods and services. As the old saw goes, it's the Golden Rule: "Whoever has the gold, makes the rules." (Though in Creation, it’s silver, salt, cowries or jade.)
Economic power means a lot more than mere wealth, though. Farmers and artisans wield economic power because other people need what they produce. As a society becomes more complex, exercises of economic power can include control over hiring and firing, wages, prices, transport of goods, consumer boycotts, national fiscal policy, striking for health benefits… on and on.
Sometimes, economic entities such as corporations or trade guilds get mixed up in government. If the businesses create a government, you have Syndicalism, with the Italian merchant princes as RL examples. If the government directly controls economic activity, you have Socialism, more or less. Other forms of economic power include land ownership (particularly in pre-technological, agrarian societies) and plutocracy (political power explicitly limited to people with great wealth, however that's defined, from livestock to corporate stock).
How does your society organize itself to produce and distribute the necessities of life? Or the luxuries? What are the necessities and luxuries? What do people eat? (How people feed themselves may be the most basic economic issue.) Who has the wealth, and how do they get it and keep it?
Case Study: The Realm’s system of banking and jade scrip is both a source and exercise of economic power. The conversion rates between jade scrip and actual jade make the system deeply unstable without the Empress backing it up through her possibly imaginary Privy Purse. However, loss of faith in the system would harm just about every power broker on the Blessed Isle — so the Great Houses play along. For now.
Case Study: The Guild. Duh. See Masters of Jade, coming soon!
Case Study: The Lap indentures everyone at a young age as a way to control their labor for state benefit. Officially, no one has a chance to gain private wealth until they are over 43, or acquire any privilege they can pass along to their children. Unofficially, money talks as loudly in the Lap as anywhere else.
IDEOLOGICAL power is the power of belief. Political power arises from the social structure, but ideology claims authority beyond the social structure, and tries to create its own social order. Ideological leaders justify their power in ways that have nothing to do with decision-making: The Pope is Christ's vicar on Earth, so if you believe in Christ you should obey the Pope. Or, the Communist Party will create the utopian Classless Society, so you should obey the Party. Even mob rule is a savage form of ideological power, driven by primitive ideologies such as "Let's Get What's Ours From Those Rich Bastards" or "Keep Those Dirty <Insert Ethnic Minority> In Their Place." Cults of personality are also examples of ideological power — a belief in the superhuman qualities of the Great Leader. On a brighter note, abolitionist and civil rights movements demand that societies change their structures for the sake of fairness, inalienable rights endowed by a Creator, or other transcendent ideals. Whatever the ideology, followers believe that they act as the vehicle for some greater power and purpose: "I'm on a mission from God."
Theocracy — rule by a god or divine representative, such as a priest-king or church — is one manifestation of ideological power, but other forms can exist. What transcendent values does your society endorse? Or at least claim to endorse? Who defends and promotes these beliefs, and how, and what privileges do they claim for doing so?
Case Study: The Scarlet Empire operates in symbiosis with the ideology of the Immaculate Order. It doesn’t matter, the Order says, what you think of your Dragon-Blooded master personally. The Dragon-Blooded are higher beings, and disobedience to them violates the fundamental order of Creation.
Case Study: Halta and Linowan have spent centuries locked in a religious war over which type of forest is better, evergreen or deciduous. What began as a spat between their patron gods has become a mutual hatred so deep and pervasive that either society would likely disintegrate if it gave up the war — it’s one of the few things every member of these far-flung wilderness empires has in common.
Case Study: Sijan exists to honor the dead. Everyone wants a little respect when they die, and Sijan serves that purpose. Its holy mission lets Sijan remain neutral and unarmed; its morticians travel unmolested. Any warlord, prince or bandit chief who ordered an attack on Sijan would find his own troops in revolt, and not just from fear of revenge from angry ghosts. Desecrating the dead, and their keepers, is just wrong.
MILITARY power is simple and obvious. "Do what I say or I'll kill you." Or for a slightly subtler form, protection from enemies and dangers: "Do what I say or they'll kill you." Or "Do what I say and I'll kill them," if people feel aggressive.
Military organizations can achieve political legitimacy if they adopt rules of conduct, a chain of command, and other formalities. A military might even take over ordinary social and political functions. Warlords, on the other hand, make no pretence of legitimacy. In this mode, soldiers don't follow a chain of command; they are personally loyal to the warlord (if only to the warlord's money). Criminal organizations often show aspects of military power, even if the criminals don't explicitly rob people: They use force to protect their turf and profits from other criminals and to intimidate legitimate authorities.
In your society, who uses violence to gain power and get what they want? (Besides the PCs!) Is their use of force sanctioned by some other group, or is it raw threat of force?
Case Study: The Realm Defense Grid is the greatest source of military power within Creation. (It is arguable whether the Daystar counts as “within Creation,” and anyway it is rather firmly kept out of human hands.) The Realm’s legions, however, are far from insignificant. The satrapy system ultimately rests on the threat of retribution by the occupying legions.
Case Study: Through the Staff of Peace and Order, the Perfect of Paragon literally holds the lives of his subjects in his hands. His subjects can die if they consciously violate his law. This is not as sweet for the Perfect as you might think… But every citizen knew the deal when they swore their oath on the Staff, legitimizing his power.
Case Study: The Mask of Winters maintains a façade of government in Thorns, but he is about the most brutally illegitimate a warlord-conqueror one could imagine.
TECHNICAL power is the power of specialized knowledge and skills. Scientists and inventors possess technical power because their discoveries and inventions change what people can do and what they know. The priests of Egypt held technical power because of their monopoly on writing, the calendar and geometry. Nowadays, lawyers wield technical power because the law is so complicated that only a specialist can understand it. Any group based on technical power can claim authority on the grounds that only its members possess some skill that society needs to function, whether the skill is writing, law, engineering or alchemy: "Leave it to us, we know what to do."
What does your society treat as specialized skills and knowledge? Who has power through their possession of such skills? How do they use it?
Case Study: The Realm may appear somewhat weak in the field of technical power (though the sorcerers of the Heptagram qualify as possessors of specialized knowledge, and so do the artisans who increase the Dynasty’s panoply of artifacts). Keep in mind, though, that the complex bureaucracy of the Thousand Scales is a form of technical power. Prudent Realm-folk should not ask how much that power is meant to assure competent administration and how much it screens the people who really run things.
Case Study: In Creation, shamanism is not always coupled with piety. Small gods and elementals have power; the shaman develops special skills to chivvy the spirits into using their power for the benefit of the tribe (or at least not to use their power to its detriment). While shamans might learn thaumaturgy for this purpose, just the diplomatic skill to bribe, browbeat, wheedle or otherwise persuade a spirit is a form of technical power.
Case Study: The astrologers of Varangia decide everyone’s occupation, as well as the times to initiate war and peace and just about everything else. Their divinations are real, if not infallible. This assurance that everyone and everything is in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time makes Varangia an example of a government that is explicitly based on technical power.
Keep in mind that every social force can affect the other four, and institutions often combine more than one social force. In the Scarlet Empire, for instance, the military occupation of the satrapies brings in the tribute that enriches the Great Houses and opens the way for Immaculate missionaries. The Lap’s enormous food surplus, an economic resource, is used tactically to reward and punish societies through half the South. Or, the Varangians guide their lives through astrology because of an ideology that elevates stasis as a social goal, and ordains astrology as a way to achieve it.
Conversely, activities and institutions that seem similar might operate within a context of different social forces. For instance, look at religion in Creation: The Immaculate Order is explicitly ideological; but shamanism is often an exercise of technical power. A god who extorts worship by threatening mortals uses military power, whereas a god who promises boons in return for worship enters into an economic relationship. Spirits can even become legitimate heads of state, as the Syndics of Whitewall have done — albeit by promising safety and prosperity as well as honest and competent government.
As an exercise, you might look at a country’s description in the CoTD books and see how each social force operates within it. If you want to use a country as the core setting for a campaign, the Pentangle of All-Encompassing Power can suggest areas to develop your own material.

2012-05-30, 01:00 AM
The thing to do first off is to make the place unique, interesting and fun. So, it's always helpful to dump the whole ''D&D must be biased on real world history'' idea.

Unique places:

Onsstuck-A gnome floating island full of tinker type gnomes that always need fresh 'volunteers' as test subjects for machines. So in short they run a slave trade and have a 'only gnomes are people' biased society.

Arranas-Is a massive arena city, where everything is all about the games. Some of the fights are professionals, but most are outlanders that get caught breaking a law...any law like coughing in public. Even simple things in the city, like if you want to buy a sword, revolve around an arena match from 'i'll sell you the sword half off if your guy wins or you buy it for double if my guy wins'' to simply betting outright for something.

Saldow-Is a city partly made of shadowstuff that has real thought police that monitor all thoughts at all times...and where thinking bad thoughts is a crime, not to mention the minority report stuff. And that is on top of all the shadow stuff.

Calgaunt-This city you can visit but never leave as it has an exit tax(that is always slightly more then you can afford). Citizen of the city are treated well, but all others(except merchants) are trespassers. The alleyways are officially not part of the city. It is illegal to make change in the city, so if you only have gold coins, then a candle will still be one copper coin, yet you will have to spend one gold coin to buy it.

2012-05-30, 01:13 AM
Also use grimdarkness sparingly. A world where every city sounds like it's horrible to live in, visit, or even think about does not hold up to much scrutiny; indeed, it begs the question as to why people live there at all (and if the answer is "because whatever is outside the hellhole city is worse" then it's time to take a break from worldbuilding or make sure that's what the players really enjoy).

2012-05-30, 01:15 PM
To borrow eulmanis12 tables, with some clean up and a few modifications, I give you these:

{table]Roll d12|Government|Culture|Economy|Land Type
02|Constitutional Monarchy|Aztec/Incan|Barter|River Valley
03|Democracy|Feudal Japan|Collectivism|Plains
04|Dictatoriship|Holy Land (European Crusades)|Colonialism|Marshes
05|Meritocracy|Indian Subcontinent|Corporatism|Forest
06|Monarchy|Medieval France|Facism|Archipelago
07|Monarchy|Mongol|Gift Economy|Volcanic
08|Oligarchy|Native American|Hunter-Gatherer|Underground
09|Republic|Renaissance Italy|Laissez-faire Capitalism|Wasteland
10|Stratocracy|Revolutionary America|Mercantilism|Desert
11|Theocracy|Victorian England|Mixed Capitalism|Jungle
12|Tribal|Viking|Subsistence|Roll two times[/table]

For more options:

My personal favourite is the Geniocracy.

As an aside economic systems can just as often be the form of government (for example Anarchism from the perspective of government is probably going to be pure market capitalism, or more properly Anarcho-Capitalism).

{table]Race (d10)|Culture 1 (d12)|Culture 2 (d12)|Culture3 (d12)
Human|Egypt|Victorian England|Conquistadors
Elf|Native American|Inquisition Spain|Missionaries
Dwarf|Aztec|Colonial America|Raiders
Halfling|Viking|Fallen Rome|Miners
Orc|African Tribe|Celtic|Farmers
goblin|Mongol|Holy Roman|Mercenaries
Hobgoblin|Tzarist Russia|Athens|Pirates
Other|Feudal Japan|Wild West|Scientists/ Mages
|Warring States China|Mughal Empire|Warriors[/table]

Roll once in each chart. Mix your favorite elements of culture 1 and culture 2, culture 3 describes their preferred occupation.

2012-05-31, 12:26 AM
I find not making good guy nations and bad guy nations is helpful. I like to make countries where I know people who would think of it as a generally positive place/the government is doing what it needs to do. AAAAND I know people who would think of the nation as a terrible/freedom crushing/almost anarchy. While avoiding cliches and stereotypes, of course. 'This is soviet russia' countries are very meeeehhhh.