Friday, November 24, 2017

The Face Underneath a Monarchy

The hardest struggle surrounding the tech/development structure I'm designing is with my imagination; it literally feels like I am squeezing my brain to separate the juice from the pulp, to produce as much detail and content as I'm able.

It's a good thing that I'm well-read, otherwise this task would be insurmountable.  I'll propose a question, one for which the answer was posted on the blog about two years ago.  How is it that the presence of animal husbandry changed the shape and status of house building?

If you're a long-time reader, you'll hit on that immediately.  But three years ago I'd have had no idea myself; I'd have needed someone to explain it to me.  But I read and continue to watch documentaries, which steadily expand my perceptions about things past the usual associations we make.

If you want the answer, and some kind soul doesn't rush to put it in the comments, write me an email at

Let's take another example.  What associations do you make with the development of Monarchy?  Right off, the reader should connect the presence of a monarch with a more united kingdom, the rise of an aristocracy, the presence of a court, the inevitability of joint foreign policy and quite probably the creation of some kind of elite military, "the king's guard."

To put it another way, an organized government, which a less developed region would not possess.  We should be able to think of lots of examples of inward-looking social organizations, without a system of government, where the rules of law came down to what your neighbors believed or what people accepted as tradition.  Homesteaders in 19th century America, well ahead of the government, or large parts of Africa or the steppes of Eurasia, where tribes and clans vied with each other for resources but had little relationship with the outside world.  The whole history of Australia, before the arrival of Europeans. 

The arrival of a monarchy on the scene sets up a conflict with tradition; a government is there to arrest, manage or instigate change, depending on what is needed ~ whereas a traditional framework opposes change categorically.  Once a "state" has begun thinking for itself, those beliefs previously held by the population are now under siege.  The monarch has ideas of his or her own; and those ideas are not "traditional" much of the time.  Largely because the problems a monarch faces are not traditional, but the necessity of event: disaster, increases in population, decreases in food supply, the incursion of foreign powers and so on.

These things, however, are very general ~ and they don't affect a party of player characters much.  The point of the structure is to give effect to the actual campaign, not propose a history lesson on how the development of monarchies changed social structure.

It is easy to become enamored with the big picture and lose sight of that point.  If the players don't feel a difference, there isn't one; it doesn't matter if the region has a monarch or not if there are no visible signs that compel the players to view the environment differently.  So let's back up and ask, how does the monarchy affect ordinary people, here on the streets, who would probably never meet the local king or queen, nor attend court a single time in all their lives?

Well, the presence of the monarch does tend to bind together people: when the king is crowned, everyone parties; when the king dies, everyone mourns.  When the king is unwell, everyone worries; and when the king is married or has a child, again, there is a huge celebration. The various aspects of the monarch take on the aspect that we sometimes identify with celebrity culture; it seems to matter that an acting couple has split up or a famous comedian dies ... this is a small taste of the sort of intensity people once had for the reigning family when there was little else outside of their worlds to seize their imaginations.

A second element to consider is the law.  There are a series of effects now to consider associated with the way the local constabulary deal with crime.  When the law is managed by locals, according to tradition, there is room for patience and mercy that are obliterated when the people in charge owe fealty to a power that is distant and removed.  Now, the constable can't just "let you go," because there would be questions to be answered and responsibility to higher authorities.  This makes the overall visitation of the law upon individuals a colder prospect.  You're not dealing with a "man," you're dealing with the power of the state ~ and that power doesn't care that you're stealing bread to feed your family.  You're stealing.

In many different ways, matters of culture are now cut that fine.  Whereas the elders of the village or the town council might make room for you to pay your taxes when business improves, now there's an official, and outsider, who is there to ensure that everyone is paid up and in full.  Taxes are no longer a matter of give what you can; it's been decided that all persons of a certain rank and capacity will give such-and-such, no matter who they are.  The law has become faceless ... and frightening.

But players are far more familiar with a faceless law than the reverse, so that's not much of an adjustment for them.  It is harder to make a group of players understand a law system that isn't faceless than one that is. That is a part of why films like The Wicker Man hold a fascination ~ because we find it difficult to relate to sweet, kind people apparently being able to live together and peace and harmony, yet able to burn outsiders to death because it's a necessity. We, living in the world we do, automatically identify cruelty with institutions, not individuals.

We need more, then.  How else does the monarchy affect daily life apart from a drunken bash now and then and a tax collector that needs side-stepping?

It only came to me a couple days ago:  the answer is fashion.  The monarchy creates fashion the same way it creates the law.  Whereas in a previous time, people wore what they would, the presence of that celebrity cult, the same way it does for us, induces people to grow interested in new clothes, new ideas, new habits ... and the most evident of those habits, the one that the players would most likely notice, is the presence of etiquette.

We normally associate etiquette with the 19th century (we do if we're westerners), but it goes back much further than that.  Confucius, 2,500 years ago, is all about etiquette: right speaking, right acting, correctness of social relationships, correctness of justice and sincerity and so on.

I've often found myself in a position as a DM where an NPC is conversing with the player and the player is acting like a complete boor.  In my mind, it's clear from the first sentence out of the player's mouth that they have just insulted everything that the NPC ought to hold dear ... and I've let it pass because I don't want to hold the player responsible for a clumsy attempt at role-playing.  After all, the player isn't there; the player can't see the NPC as clearly as I can, and for that matter doesn't identify clearly the whole scene.  If that same player were to find themselves transported to the Palace of Versailles in the 16th century, the player would rightly shut their mouth in terror of saying something wrong, particularly if they understood the consequence might be the experience of being whipped like a dog down a long hall full of mirrors, until falling into the hands of four or five guards, who would then drag the beaten victim into a cold stone cell for a few years of unreasonable punishment.

Players don't understand consequences like that.  Why should they?  They have no experience with the sort of non-egalitarian thinking that would condemn an individual to death for speaking rudely.  Players retain their modern sensibilities with these things ... they just don't get that the local townspeople would demand a polite speaking voice and a careful choice of words because that's what the king does, and we all like the king very much and want to be like him.

As D&Dites, we're still dealing with players who answer resistance on the NPC's part with sword blows in broad daylight, followed by the sort of swaggering pride in their action like we would expect from Mad Dog Biff Tanner:  "Look at me, I'm a bad ass."  A moment like that in D&D needs someone stepping up behind the character and hitting them blind with a shovel.

We might try explaining to the players that living in a monarchy means there are now consequences for failing to speak politely, even to goodwives, even to beggars ... and everyone in the town is ready to step up and quietly see that those consequences are delivered.  Save the rudeness for a democracy.  We do not put up with that shit around here.


Ozymandias said...

I'll offer my take on that question: animal husbandry, being essentially animal domestication, means bringing animals into close proximity with people. Depending on the climate, this would mean building houses for animals. The earliest examples would probably be shared domiciles ~ it would take time and wealth before people routinely built separate houses for animals. The physical presence of livestock in the home would shape it's design; form follows function. For example, animals would be stabled on the ground floor, which may have been dug into the earth a few feet, as that provided better temperature control during the year, while people would have had a loft above one end.

Course, it helps to understand this relationship if we know the culture, local weather and environment, types of domestic animals, etc.

Alexis Smolensk said...

All true, Ozymandias. However, I'm looking for a singular detail about the manner of housebuilding itself; I tried hard to find the phrasing that would specify that, but I missed it. Hard to separate out the "design" of the house from its "structure."

Ozymandias said...

...hmmm. Now you have my curiosity.

Drain said...

"Not in the face!" - all the nail could scream as you hit it right in the head, Alexis.

You're not dealing with "a man" anymore, that's precisely right, you're dealing with "the man". It all went to Kafka and Punk Rock from there.

Very thought-provoking post. Wish all my mornings could start with something this meaty.

Homer2101 said...

There are a lot of complex ideas in your post regarding government, and you may find this useful:

Modern political science breaks down governance into three components: (1) The degree of governance; (2) The quality of governance; and (3) The form of governance. The purpose of this breakdown is to avoid lumping together states and governments based on superficial similarities.

Degree of governance asks the extent to which the government can enforce its will, whether in collecting taxes, in restraining unsanctioned violence, or in implementing economic policies. At its simplest, it asks to what extent the government (the state) can enforce its claimed monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Quality of governance asks the extent to which the government complies with the rule of law. Rule of law is difficult to define; it encompasses the subjective reasonableness of laws and other government acts, and the predictability and fairness of enforcement and appeal of those laws and acts. Modern measures of this concept include Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index and the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index.

Form of governance asks the shape of the decision-making and enforcement bodies -- how the key political actors are chosen, laws passed, and judgments rendered.

The order of the components is their relevance to how the ostensibly-governed live. A government that cannot enforce its edicts is relevant only in the power vacuum it creates in its absence. A government that runs on bribes and is viewed as arbitrary and capricious breeds mistrust and resentment.

For example, the governments of Canada and Afghanistan superficially are both representative democracies. However, the Canadian government can enforce its will over almost four million square miles, and it ranks highly in every measure of compliance with the rule of law. The Afghan government has no writ outside of Kabul and the few other major cities, and is wholly consumed by corruption and vested interests. While superficially similar, these two governments should not be categorized together.

This is applicable to any time period, and it's probably possible to create a nifty three-axis chart of government types, much as NationStates has its three-axis chart based on political, economic, and social 'freedoms'.

You wrote a while back that you don't care about sources, so sources are left to be provided on request.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That is appreciated, Homer. However, if you are familiar with the blog and my writing, you should realize I'm well able to tell the difference between one Monarchy and another. For example, the monarchy that contains Stavanger, from the Juvenis campaign, being Denmark, is a real entity, notably different from the monarchy that rules over Sweden, just next door. But since I run the real world in my campaign, I can certainly apply myself to as much documentation as I need to use in order to avoid, as you say, "lumping together states ... based on superficial similarities."

However, presuming you have familiarized yourself with the agenda of the development structure that I'm arguing for in this post, and in others I've written, the actual problem is making players FEEL like they're in a monarchy as opposed to in some part of the world where a monarchy has little or no relevance.

Let's take the Kingdom of Denmark. Troms is a county of that kingdom, but it is way, way far up the coast of Norway, with its main city, Tromso, at 69.67 degrees north. Now, Tromso is a part of Denmark, yes, but the amount of influence that the king in Copenhagen has over Troms is, well, doubtful.

Now, we COULD lump Troms in with all the other provinces of Denmark, and assume it pays its taxes like anyone else, that it is policed like anyone else, that Copenhagen has as much grip over the town of Tromso as much as any other town ... but I choose to say no. In the system I'm proposing, Troms has a development of 7. It is nominally a part of Denmark, but in reality the locals don't care too much about what the king wants. Taxes are raised, but not necessarily by a tax collector of the king. See, the king keeps sending tax collectors to Troms, but unfortunately they keep having accidents and drowning, or they freeze to death, or they have trouble finding all the citizenry in this very wild part of the world.

In other words, Troms is a DIFFERENT place than the rest of the Denmark kingdom. It has its own character, its own verve ... and when the players go there, seeing this part of the kingdom being run according to slightly different ideals, they feel like they've actually travelled.

Now, does this mean that the dev-7 of Troms is like every other dev-7 elsewhere in the world? Hell no. It means that I have one more tool to define this particular dev-7 region from the rest of its geopolitical situation ... and when I think about how other dev-7 regions work, I'll compare them to those unique geopolitical situations that apply.

See, Homer, while your comment has interest in the study of political science, it isn't actually very helpful in explaining to anyone how to divide up the parts of their game world and make sense of them from a player/game perspective. Where you write, "Rule of law is difficult to define; it encompasses the subjective reasonableness of laws and other government acts ... etcetera," it is 100% useless for teaching anyone how to worldbuild. And worldbuilding is the agenda here.

Do you see that?

Vlad Malkav said...

Very thought provoking post (will most probably influence the running of tomorrow) - and your last comment is as much a part of it as the rest of the post, real good.

Each and any of the posts of this kind show how the vast framework you created is worth every second of it.

I'm currently (and finaly) working on a hex-map editor (the graphic part for now) that'll help my current game, and which I plan to use as a base to implement your corpus of work. Great times indeed.

Homer2101 said...

Had a reply written, wasn't happy with it and decided to sit on it until it spored. Here goes a possibly better one:

If you want players to care about a thing in a game, make it relevant to the core gameplay loop.

In daily life, people care most about things that affect their daily routines. The more immediate and severe the impact, the more they care. People claim to care about the whales, and the bears, and the starving refugees, but by their actions we know that their concerns center around their daily routines, not what is happening thousands of miles away.

How much would a restaurant owner care about hygiene without regular government health inspections, and threat of shutdown therefrom? Experience tells us he would not care a damn.

In games, players care about the core loop -- the routines that make up the game.

D&D consist of three loops:
Top Loop: Get quest, Attempt quest, Get reward, which consist of:
Middle Loop: Enter Encounter, Handle encounter, Get loot, which consist of:
Bottom Loop: Approach enemy, Attack enemy, Get loot.

To clarify: 'Quest' is a generic objective; players deciding to scale a mountain on the horizon is a quest; mechanically it doesn't matter whether the quest is self-generated, or given by a bearded stranger in a tavern.

Three levels of nested loops built around killing stuff for profit. Somewhere around 80% of the published game mechanics pertain to combat. Every D&D game I have seen or participated in was centered around combat. It's possible to bypass encounters without combat, but the mechanics are so shoddy and so poorly-developed they might well not exist except as occasional breaks to keep the combat from getting tedious. They are the tabletop equivalent of minigames.

So if you want players to care about governance or hygiene, or any other mechanic, make it relevant to the above loops. Ask HOW does the type of governance affect a wandering murder-hobo*, then build mechanics around the answer.

There are many ways to do so, which is why my initial post was so broad. But here goes an attempt to be more specific. From what I can see, governance affects the top loop -- who gives the quests, types of quests available, and nature of rewards given. Therefore, measure governance on four scales for each hex, for each government claiming jurisdiction:

1. Autonomy. From 0 (none) to 3 (absolute). The higher the autonomy, the less-likely the player is to encounter a representative of the government, and the less likely the NPCs are to obey its edicts.
2. Corruption. From 0 (none) to 3 (high). The higher the corruption, the greater the need for bribes and favors or connections to get anything.
3. Arbitrariness. From 0 (none) to 3 (high). The odds that a government representative will follow the law or honor an agreement.
4. Reasonableness. From 0 (perfectly reasonable) to 3 (unreasonable). The reasonableness of demands.

So a player knows, on entering a 2/3/3/3 hex, that the town guard is best avoided, and that any offer made is only good its giver decides otherwise. How the above affects specific interactions depends entirely on how you adjudicate interactions to begin with, so I can't begin to go into that, nor have much inclination to do so. The above can be hooked into the development system, or the trade tables. I am not going down that rabbit hole in this comment.

*There's nothing wrong with playing a murder-hobo, wandering about the land in search of creatures to murder and stuff to steal.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Appreciated, Homer.

That's a good rundown on D&D as it is.

It was never enough for ME. So all this blog and design and wiki? This is me making a world that I would be happy to run in.

Maybe that's more than you need. But my readers and supporters seem to feel that I'm giving them what THEY need.

I don't think there's anything wrong with murder-hobos either. But there is so much more than that.