Saturday, August 24, 2013

Putting NPC Polities into the Toolbox

I think the most important thing is to remember the Magic Number 7, and not have more than 7 things in front of you at once. Since political groups operate in the same way as World NPCs will, they compete with those for the 7 slots of global movers and shakers you can comfortably juggle at a time.

Luckily, for the most part, a World NPC will be aligned or associated with a given political entity, and can be part of the polity's entry. Only extremely charismatic, powerful, or manipulative individuals can be expect to be a global force entirely their own - others, even those having significant disagreements with the polity they participate in, will still be significantly constrained by the preferences of the polity, and should be considered within it, rather than apart from it.

The other type of World NPC that can get away with one of the 7 spots on the front page of your campaign journal is an individual with an absolutely loyal following, or crazy enough to not even go around with much of a following. Generally, these will be necromancers with armies of undead, iron-fisted cult leaders with fewer, but crazier followers, (larger cults with more than one power base will actually behave as normal polities), and lone wacko heroes like Hercules, Arjuna, or the PCs.

Honestly, for the most part, most World NPCs can be replaced by NPC polities. Instead of "King Hendrik of Lyceum," just use "Lyceum." The 7 great powers in your region will be the 7 polities you generate, unless there are 1 or 2 crazy individuals out there who can either compete on their own or are sufficiently unhinged that they can generate their own gravity on the world equal to that of a kingdom.

So, it's time for a few definitions. We want this system to be easy to port into different power levels, and easy to remember - therefore, use fractal design. Up to 7 kingdoms in your continent, each with up to 7 major internal players, each of which has up to 7 of its own major entities.

From here on out, a domain is the "setting level" at which there are up to 7 actors, which are entities both able and willing to meaningfully change the state of a given domain. A domain can be a multiverse, a continent, a kingdom, a city, a region, or even a single hamlet. An actor can be a race, a religion, a kingdom, a political party, a guild, a mercenary band, a cult, a posse, or a family.

(An actor can also be a single individual, but for the most part they will simply be subunits of other actors. Historically, even a king could never rule on his own - he needed the support of a complex network of noble, merchant, and military backers. And this network, of course, would never be completely unified - if necessary, it could be considered a domain all its own. Anyway, if you want, put in individuals as actors rather than subunits of traditional actors whenever you want to, and ignore these rules completely whenever you do so. Unless the individual in question has seven personalities.)

Therefore, each domain has up to 7 actors, each of which is their own domain, with up to 7 smaller actors, which are also domains, and so forth. Each actor uses the the stats described in my previous post:
  • Strength: Isolation versus interventionism. 
  • Constitution: Pacifism versus militarism. 
  • Dexterity: Stasis vs. change.
  • Intelligence: Social memory.
  • Wisdom: Elitism versus populism.
  • Charisma: Xenophobia vs cosmopolitanism.
I suggest beginning with the domain that is one higher than what the PC's will begin acting on. Perhaps more - it is easier to improvise downwards than upwards, since a strange new town they've never heard of before is accepted more easily than the appearance of a strange new empire just a few miles away. Generating this "top-level domain" is the simplest - choose the number of actors you want, roll their stats in order, then write the name, a 1-2 sentence description, and any other notes - important NPCs, controlled subunits and regions, etc. I made a summary sheet with all this inputted. Write down both the stats and the stat bonuses - the latter are important when moving downwards to a lower domain.

For example, the Kingdom of Lyceum is, from the PC's position, the most important entity in my Veil setting. The domain is functionally the World - the "Old Continent" of Estia, and the "New Continent" of Adrastia. There are two other actors on this domain - the Polikan Empire and the Safarran League - but I'll just do Lyceum for now:

STR: 9 (0)
CON: 10 (0)
DEX: 14 (+1)
INT: 8 (-1)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 12 (0)

As you can see, not particularly extreme in any area, but it is favorably disposed to social change, isn't rooted much in the past, and favors elite rule. I re-rolled the lowest die for STR and CHA, because I already have Lyceum funding exploration and colonization of a New Continent, and that wouldn't jive with scores of 7 and 5 on each of those. However, I do like that neither of those stats is particularly high - perhaps the kingdom is only exploring out of necessity? Or excitement has waned?

Of course, each actor is its own domain, so do this again for each actor. The exact manner in which you execute the next step depends on what the original actor is - most importantly on its centralization. A loosely organized religion might have its internal actors represent different schools of thought, while a rigid cult would have its internal actors representing different direct units. Political actors - such as states or empires - would have a mix of independent internal actors, such as different political parties or social groups, and subordinate ones, like militaries, tax agencies, et cetera.

Importantly, you apply the main actor's stat modifiers to the stats of every smaller actor under its direct control. Sometimes this is done crosswise - if a major actor within a kingdom is an independence movement controlled by a rival kingdom, apply the rival kingdom's stat modifiers. 

Continuing within Lyceum, one of the most important organizations in the Kingdom is the Black Chamber. It began as a cryptographic office and expanded to become a hybrid of magical and philosophical research unit, witch hunter, and spy ring. As its purview has grown, so has its power, and its secrets - both mundane and mystical - shape the entire kingdom's future.

STR: 13 (+1)
CON: 11 (0)
DEX: 9+1= 10 (+0)
INT: 10-1= 9 (-0)
WIS: 8-1=7 (-1)
CHA: 14 (+1)

So, the Black Chamber is fairly interventionist, still fairly elitist, but pretty cosmopolitan. That last might sound strange for a spy group, but remember it's equal parts mage, alchemist, and assassin. Lyceum's stats modified DEX, INT, and WIS to a small degree. Again, record the stat modifiers so they can be applied to any smaller actors the Black Chamber controls. 

Continuing on, Lyceum is a trading state, and thus Lycian merchants are socially and economically powerful, even if their political power is curtailed by the proliferation of trading guilds and shipping companies. 

STR: 11 (0)
CON: 9 (0)
DEX: 8 (-1)
INT: 10 (0)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 16 (+2)

The merchants are, of course, not under the crown's direct control. They're mildly interventionist, with a mild aversion to fighting, and are actually fairly inflexible and elitist. They're extremely cosmopolitan - I actually fudged this roll, since the first would have given me xenophobic traders - not a contradiction I'm willing to work with at this point. Inflexibility and elitism might seem counterintuitive to some, but this can easily happen if trading is conducted by smaller, entrenched family monopolies, rather than independent explorers.

From here, you can continue on down the line as far as you like. I wouldn't fully generate every actor at every domain level - keeping in mind that its easier to generate downwards rather than upwards, I'd fully generate every actor at the domain the players are starting in and the one immediately above it, and then partially generate one or two lower domains the players will likely come into contact with.

Partial generation involves rolling only the stats that players are likely to hear about from other actors - Charisma and one other stat (probably Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom). Partially generating like this greatly reduces the generation time, and provides enough information to allow incomplete actors to interact with the players from afar, buying you time to roll the other four stats.

The next post, I'll write up how to account for influences - religions, regions, social strata, and changes in command.