This entry is part 3 in the series City Government Power Bases
What forces govern your city?

What forces govern your city?

The city power base series picks up again this week with thoughts about something you will not find in real life, but which affects fantasy cities in a huge way: levels. Think about it – most fantasy RPG systems offer class levels that create huge disparities between those who have them and those who do not. How can you use level to create interesting politics?

We also dive into social class this article. I remember using social class in my games for the first time after purchasing Unearth Arcana for 1st Ed. D&D. Whether social class is codified in your game rules or you just use it for flavour and world design, such consideration has huge implication for urban governments.

There is also another NBOS software giveaway this week!

This power base series is pretty abstract. I need you to bring it down to the encounter level for me so GMs have some instant hooks, seeds and ideas on how to use class and level in-game for interesting gameplay.

Be sure to post in the comments section as ideas come to you while reading this article. Multiple entries are welcome. Thanks for the help!

You can find more info about the giveaway at the end of the article.

Character class

NPCs can use their class and abilities as a personal power base. Classes and experience provide special feats, abilities and class skills to help them gain an edge over their opponents, to win various political issues and struggles, or to help them serve their communities better.

In typical fantasy RPG worlds, retired soldiers, mercenaries and adventurers will have earned tremendous experience in the field. Even militias, guards and besieged city folk will gain a few levels over the years.

Think about the mayor of your real life town or city right now. If he could handle opponents with a lethal barrage of magic missiles, or use Spring Attack to cuff the opposition in the blink of an eye, who would dare raise their voice during council meetings? A stealthy leader learns many secrets. A pious one many allies.

If I was a politician with an interesting class power – the equivalent to a small super hero power – all kinds of possibilities open up for its use in government. What a strange world it would be if your mayor could fly, sunder or offer resistance to mental effects from foes.

Strengths

Class and level offer a reliable power base. Except under unusual circumstances, an NPC can count on the abilities his class(es) and level(s) confer. Imagine a public debate during an election period where a 3rd level Aristocrat is trying to win an argument against a 10th level Bard.

Imagine a coup against an epic level warrior – chances are he could defeat a small army himself. Nothing beats having high levels in one or more character classes on a day-to-day basis for politicians, government officials and government agents to draw upon.

Weaknesses

Class and level are not scalable powers. They are limited to the individual who has them, though their effects can be felt by many. One cannot confer an entire government or division the benefits of a class unless the NPC is present, and most NPCs can’t be in two places at once.

Character class is one of the most divisive power bases, and most politicians and governments try to please as many people as much of the time as possible. While high levels in a class might be seen as a strength by some, it will often be seen as a threat to others.

In addition, the type of class can make just as many foes as it can friends. For example, it would be difficult being or employing a person who was publicly known to be a rogue. Would the populace trust a high level sorcerer? Would a barbarian ever earn the respect of her city-bred peers? Would a cleric always be seen to have their god as a higher, interfering priority and unwelcome influence?

Flavor

Decide how the NPC gained his experience points. This exercise results in a wonderful backstory you can use to create gossip, blackmail opportunities, affiliations and government flavor with. How would a government or community be affected by having a dungeon-delving bard official? When an NPC has faced death 1,000 times, how will she react to government life? How will other government employees, such as scribes and minor officials, behave around a 10th level grizzled veteran of the war?

As the expression goes, when you’re a hammer everything looks a nail. A classed NPC is often going to try to solve his problems using his skills and abilities when these methods might not be appropriate.

Also, looking through the lens of a class – as opposed to the lens of a citizen or government representative – can prejudice an NPCs’ views, which might result in unpredictable actions. For example, the classic rift between warrior and wizard might create an inexplicable rift between the guards and the treasury.

It’s also fun to place classed NPCs in unexpected situations based on the nature of their abilities and experience. Adventurers must retire sometime – one way or another :) – and political office might be an attractive avenue for them. Imagine the looks on the PCs’ faces when they discover the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a 15th level monk!

Social Class

This is an important power base for many governments. City social structures are often stratified based on race, heritage, profession or source of income, wealth, land ownership and titles. The various combinations of these elements place members of society into a social hierarchy where, the higher up the ladder one sits, the more privileges they receive.

Strengths

For government officials, membership of a social class can confer numerous advantages, chief of which is affiliation. Most citizens will support or obey a bureaucrat whom they feel best represents their interests, and social class is one way for the masses to quickly decide which officials are on their side, regardless of the truth.

In most cases, having a higher social class confers instant advantages: affiliation with the rich and famous opens up roads to funding, political support, and the general power base of the whole city. However, wily government officials with lower social class can play up their low status to garner sympathy and empathy from the masses – the power of the people!

For the fortunate, another advantage of high social class is that it’s conferred without effort. Most are born into a specific level and live within it their entire lives. What could be easier? In addition, social class is rarely lost. Criminals and the bankrupt can fall rapidly, but many societies and upper social classes actively seek to protect their own either by not making the laws apply to them or by not associating the stigma that usually goes along with being poor or a criminal.

Another key strength is reputation. This goes hand in hand with affiliation, as reputation conferred by being a member of a certain social class acts like a beacon to help others quickly identify and support their fellow noble, laborer or outcast.

Weaknesses

For those born into the wrong social class, there’s usually no escape. An ambitious politician might have to battle long and hard to gain a voice, support or acceptance in higher social circles. The laws regarding voting, ownership, limits of authority, and freedom of movement might all hamper a low class bureaucrat.

People might also make false judgments and assumptions against a politician based on his class. The well-meaning councilman might get scoffed at because his noble status might be perceived as being too high for his job by his peers, and too high for real representation by his lower class constituents.

Social class as a power base is risky at certain times in a city’s development. During periods of anarchy or revolution, for example, power often leaves the hands of the upper class and they must focus on self-preservation and property protection until order gets restored.

During government change-overs, certain classes might be targeted for revenge, control, penalties or extermination by the new regime. For example, a proletariat government might redistribute the wealth of the upper classes after a successful coup, or a foreign government could behead the most influential nobles when it seizes power.

Flavor

A government administration itself can be given a social class based on its views and philosophies on how it should govern and serve the city, and which social class(es) it primarily represents.

For example, socialist governments could be considered as lower class, democratic governments middle class, and absolute governments upper class. You can use this to your advantage when roleplaying. While most NPCs will be inclined to criticize their government (assuming it’s safe and legal to do so), you can inject a degree of affinity and color parleys based on how close the government’s social class is to NPC-of-the-moment.

As a rule of thumb, NPCs of a similar social class to their government will be accepting of their government and will target individuals within it for criticism (“the Prelate is a moron”), while non-player characters with a disparate social class will criticize the establishment as a whole (“the government is out to get the working man!”).

Create additional flavor through conflict by mismatching the social class power bases of government and its officials with the social classes of its portfolios and obligations. For example, imagine an upper class government dealing with drought, or a lower class politician serving an upper class neighborhood.

NBOS Software Giveaway

Post an encounter hook, seed or idea relating to class and level city government power bases below for a chance to win an NBOS software title of your choice.

You can enter multiple times in the same comment or via multiple comments.

I’ll draw a winner Feb 19, just a few days away, so enter now while ideas are fresh in your mind.

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