This entry is part 2 in the series City Government Power Bases
What forces govern your city?

What forces govern your city?

In the introduction last week I covered the goal of this series, which is to use the idea of power bases – where do fantasy governments, government officials and factions get power and influence? – to make your cities interesting places to adventure.

Each part in this series will cover two or three power bases in detail. I cover multiple power bases in each part to keep the series limited to seven parts or so. The bases in each part might be related, but sometimes are not and are coupled just due to the schedule.

By the end of this series, you should be armed with a decent tool to make your cities unique, dangerous and compelling for players. This week discusses the power bases of law and affiliation.

Software giveaway

At the end of this post leave a comment about adventure hook ideas concerning Law or Affiliation for a chance to win NBOS software! More information at the bottom. There will be more NBOS software giveaways in other parts of this series, so stay tuned.

The Law

Every society has a body of laws, whether a set of traditional customs passed along via campfire lore or a complex constitution that fills a library. The law is potentially one of the most powerful power bases. It gives the government or politician the right to act on the behalf of the society it governs with that society’s implicit approval. If the government wants to act and it’s a legal action, the government doesn’t need to go to the people and ask for permission each time.

By choosing legal actions, the government can just go ahead and carry out its will. If a government takes unpopular actions, the government can reiterate, “it’s the law” and gain a high degree of compliance without effort.

Furthermore, if governing is akin to a game played by politicians, then the body of laws provides a discreet set of rules that can be bent, twisted and loopholed.


The law gives governments the right and authority to take legal actions. Clever officials can change the laws through established legal processes to make future actions permissible, which is a powerful ability and a big reason why this power base is highly sought after.

The law costs little or nothing to wield. Each time a government wants to take a legal action, the only costs are usually just those imposed by the action itself. Lawyers and lawsuits can increase expenses, but in reality these only come into play for a minute fraction of the legal actions a government takes on a daily basis.

Enforcing the law could become costly, so government officials must pick their battles carefully. If you are thinking about guard and military forces here, you are correct, but note that the idea of professional, full-time forces is uncommon in Earth’s history and should be a conscious design decision instead of an assumption.

Further, creating a body of professional soldiers represent a risk for any government. At the least, extra effort must be made to ensure loyalty, something a government might not have the resources for. Other complications arise from professional guard and military forces, as well.


If an office is caught acting outside of the law, there’s often hell to pay. Public reaction, legally stipulated penalties (such as fines, removal of governance privileges and prison terms), and weakened position are the main repercussions. The law then often becomes a limiting factor for governments.

In addition, the law is a fragile power base. Some cities might provide legal means for law changes against the ruling authority’s wishes. Also, once a government or official has been replaced, their legal authority is gone – it’ll take a coup, re-election, re-appointment, or whatever to get this power base back.


Those who have the law on their side often publicly display their authority. Badges, symbols of office, uniforms, wardens, and such are wielded to reduce resistance on legal actions taken.

How do the people in your fantasy city visually recognize who has legal authority?

City folk often develop certain philosophies about how the law should work, or be formed, enforced, or applied. These points of view can become firmly entrenched and some societies can be divided by who holds what view.

For example, in your city certain families might be known for their aggressive, mean politicians; others are reputed for their generosity and community spirit; and others are noted for their commitments to economic reform. These families are intense rivals and a constant source of PC adventures.

Do sub-groups within your city hold opposing views of how the law should be used or interpreted?

Affiliation – it is all about bonds and connections

Having inborn or cultivated alliances with others of power offers a definite asset. A government can try to tap its affiliations whenever it needs assistance, be it monetary, military, social or just a few votes. There are several types of affiliations and this presents many opportunities for campaign customization:

  • Family or clan
  • Character class
  • Racial
  • Beliefs or political views
  • Shared history or background

Example – The Khan’s Truce

The Khan wants to raid a faraway settlement known for its salt and other resources. He asks all clan leaders to supply 100 raiders in one week. However, three clans band together and defy the Khan, saying they are the weakest of the clans and cannot afford 100 raiders as that would leave them under-defended again rival clans in the city.

The Khan cannot afford to lose 300 raiders from the mission. He also cannot appear weak to the other clans. In addition, one exemption will lead to more, decimating his raiding force. He calls a meeting with clan leaders the night before the raiders leave. He negotiates a temporary truce between all clans – until the raiders return – so all clans can operate without need for defenses against each other.

Normally a truce is impossible. However, the Khan went to the second most powerful clan (with the Khan’s being most powerful) before calling the truce meeting and promised them a larger cut of the raid’s pillages if that clan would support a truce.

With the top two clans calling for truce, the other clans fell into line, making the agreement happen.

The truce satisfies the three hold outs who agree to supply their 100 raiders each. The raiders return eight weeks later, victorious. The spoils are given out, but the three weakest clans’s spoils are halved.

“Why?!” they demand.

“No one defies the Khan. For the inconvenience of the truce, your halves are cut. I also am taking 25 of your returning clansfolk. They will become my slaves.”

“Why?!” they demand again.

“For defying me! When I say you do something, you do not conspire to say no. Next time, it will be your heads as my spoils!”

With that, the Khan uses the half shares to give himself a bonus and to pay the second largest clan its extra due, further cementing loyalty with that clan and future affiliation leverage. The Khan also quashes thoughts in the other clans about forming unions to get their way. He also knows the three weakened clans are now in jeopardy, and when the time is right, he will offer protection – for a price and future affiliation power.


An affiliation offers a strong bond government can place trust in and gain a good amount of leverage and benefit from. The threat or mere mention of certain affiliations can sometimes be used as an influential playing card in political dealings – the affiliation does not actually need to be tapped to get a desired result, which is quite powerful. “If you do not support me on this in the senate, I’ll get every dwarf in the kingdom to stop buying your wool!”


The boundaries, depth and quantity of affiliation are not often known, increasing its risk as a power base. One never knows how an affiliate will act until the moment of truth arrives. When an affiliate does act, it’s also difficult to forecast their degree of commitment.

Drawing frequently upon an affiliation can overtax it as well, making future requests more likely to be refused or ignored.

Finally, affiliates have their own minds, needs and power games to win. Most affiliations are not absolute bonds, so one always risks being played by the other party.


Affiliations are one of the core parts of politics! Who supports whom and why is the stuff of conversations, rumors and debate. For the political entities you design, create a list or chart of affiliations.

You might consider making three columns: Strong, Weak, Potential. Opponents will target weak and potential affiliates and try to sway their allegiances. You can create impromptu NPC parley using all columns.

Spy games are great adventure sources as government entities try to determine the nature and extent of affiliations of their foes and even of their own side. “Talk to the head of the Bureau of Taxes for me would you? Find out what he thinks of us down here in the Licenses Division.”

A show of support is another great source of flavor. As mentioned, you can utilize the mere existence of an affiliation as a gambit for political aims. Sometimes things must be played further by proving that such an affiliation exists. This is perfect fodder for interesting background events, plots, and encounters.

Decide whether the proof of affiliation must be public or not, if any side-deals must be formed to make the demonstration of support happen, and how the affiliation will be demonstrated.

For example, a politician might tap his old friend from the war who is an officer in the Weavers’ Guild. To prove the politician has the Weavers on his side, he and his friend arrange a one-day strike-in exchange for a lucrative government linens contracts.


Stay tuned for the next part of this series, which covers class and level. If your game system uses such rules, these become personal power bases that cause interesting repercussions throughout all levels of government.

Win NBOS software

It is time to bring this theory to the game table with some game hooks related to what we’ve just discussed. That’s where you come in.

NBOS makes such fine software as Fractcal Mapper, Astrosynthesis, The Keep and Screenmonkey. Leave a comment below with an encounter or adventure idea related to The Law or Affiliation power bases.

A random commenter will be drawn on Friday. The winner gets their pick of one NBOS software title! Enter your hooks ideas now.

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