Campaign Design: Politics and Groups of Influence

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 16, 2009

The world is starting to take shape, the geography has been defined and named and you have appropriate resources on hand to assist you. Now comes the time to start breathing life into your campaign setting. This entry in the Campaign Design series takes a look at Politics and Groups of Influence. This is a high-level view at the different powers and factions that exist within the world. We will examine particular individuals and NPCs in our next entry, but today it’s all about the organizations.

There are many organizations that can exist within a fantasy setting. Empires, kingdoms, city states, trade guilds, thieves guilds, churches, magic societies and cults. All of these and more can exist within your game world. Your task is figuring out the make-up of each of these organizations and determining how they interact with one another.

You’ll probably want to have several different kingdoms or countries. Each of these should have different customs and perhaps a different style of government. This gives you varied reasons to develop conflict between the different factions. The greater the difference extant between people the more likely they are to look for and find fault in each other. It’s a regrettable part of the human condition, but one that you as a campaign designer can use to your advantage.

In determining each nation’s form of government you can look to both historical and modern examples. Whether it be a dictatorship, monarchy, democracy, theocracy or magocracy, each will provide different opportunities for adventure hooks. For example, if one kingdom is governed by a monarchy there could be a squabble over succession. Or in a magocracy the PCs may learn that the council of mages are all-powerful liches bent on domination of other peaceful kingdoms.

By creating very high-level intrigue you provide adventure hooks throughout the career of the PCs. Examples include investigating or quashing rumours, participating in a war, gathering intelligence or preparing for the conflict to come. Give each faction a brief description so you know how it factors into the campaign as a whole.

The same is true when you consider other power sources, whether these are magic associations, trade guilds or thieves guilds. Each of these organizations will have a goal or a purpose. The goal may be as simple as protecting the interest of its members: The miners guild may call on the PCs to protect them from the aberrant beasts that poured forth from the newest mine shaft. The PCs are asked to explore the mines and exterminate any monsters, but if they aren’t back within two days the miners will seal the shaft forever. Each association can have multiple adventure hooks like this that tie together to weave the larger tapestry of the campaign.

When creating associations consider how they might interact with one another. Are there conflicts that typically cause riots? How do the local merchants feel about the new thieves guild? How does the old thieves guild feel about the new one?

The feelings towards magic and religion will also play a large part in determining the make-up of different countries or associations. If magic is rare and a few powerful wizards form a magic guild, how will the rest of the campaign world react? What is this group’s goals? Is it really just the pursuit of greater magical knowledge, or is there something more sinister in the works?

Each town you create will likely have a couple of associations, while metropolis’ may have dozens of different groups operating within their borders. The amount of complexity of each is up to you to determine. Remember that if you are playing in the world while developing it, you don’t need to create all the elements immediately. Just create what you need for your next game and work on the rest as time permits. Ultimately, have fun doing it.

What unique organizations have you placed within a campaign world and what adventure hooks did you develop for them?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rook April 17, 2009 at 8:40 pm

As I’m getting ready to throw my low-level group into a homebrew, I’ve been contemplating this very idea. I’m sending them to a mining outpost. Eventually there will be trouble from within the mine itself. Of course, the ruling House (who’s mining company owns the rights to the mine) will want the PCs to enter the mines to protect the miners. However, the Delver’s Guild, whose job is to act as security, won’t let them continue unless they are willing to sign a waiver that declares the PCs as “temporary, non-union associates of the Delver’s Guild”. Of course, the guild will want their cut if any profit is made. I’m curious to see just how receptive the group will be to this.

2 Underminer April 18, 2009 at 8:57 am

My world has a Monarchy located next to a Republic. The Monarchy is a patriarchy, women are second class citizens. In the Republic women are permitted to declare themselves as “free”, which gives them the same rights as men, but removes protections their clans would give them.

An organization called the “Sisters of the Sword” has risen in the two countries which help women escape from the Monarchy to the Republic, and gives them the training in whatever field they desire. This group is considered heretical by the Church in the Monarchy. This has been aggravated by the fact the daughter of the King has announced she supports the organization.

One adventure I had the characters were approached to rescue the princess when the inquisitional arm of the Church charged her with heresy and took her into custody. The PCs were to rescue her and get her out of the Kingdom and into the Republic.

3 Wimwick April 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm

@ Rook
You’re going to make the PCs share loot? You’re a brave DM! What your proposing opens the door for future conflict or jobs for the PCs depending on how they view the agreement. Let me know how it goes.

@ Underminer
Sounds like you’ve developed an interesting mixture of government, religion and organization into your campaign. I find giving the PCs moral choices to make like the one you’ve described enrich the campaign and the roleplaying significantly.

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