This entry is part 8 in the series City Government Power Bases
What forces govern your city?

What forces govern your city?

Religion, spirituality, and ideology make excellent government power bases because they are powerful sources of influence, prestige, and affiliation.

Religion and cosmology varies from campaign to campaign, but it’s likely gods do exist in your world and they imbue certain, devout followers with spells and special powers every day.

Even if your current campaign has no divine entities or magic, consider how powerful and influential various religions have become in Earth’s mundane history.

Governments can follow several different paths when employing a religious power base:

  • Religious official. Religions have their own governments, and officials within it are often granted various rights, privileges, freedoms, or powers. If a religious official were given civilian government official status, that person could have an edge over his less pious peers.
  • Theocracy. If the city’s government is religious, then any level of affiliation with the religion(s) involved would be a boon.
  • Membership. Governments and politicians can gain influence and popularity when appealing to fellow members of their religion.
  • Cleric powers. A devout follower might take on one or more cleric class levels. See the section on magic above for information about spell power bases.
  • Affiliation. A government or official might ally with a particular religion to receive support, capital, and other benefits.

Strengths

Belief can stir up powerful emotions and convictions amongst part or all of a city’s populace. A government that shares beliefs with those it governs can establish a healthy and productive relationship with its constituents for the benefit of all.

A government can also wield belief, for good or evil, for its own purposes to get things done and to pursue its various initiatives. Belief is a hard thing to break, so religious power bases are often long-lasting and robust, as they can survive scandals, bankruptcy, war, and other short-lived conflicts.

Having a church or religious movement as an ally can supply much-needed support, votes, capital, political infrastructure, and wisdom. As long as the alliance continues, resources are available up to the limits of the relationship and the depth of the religious institution’s power.

Governments who gain the approval or possibly even the active support of the gods are powerful indeed. This approval might be public knowledge or a secret within the upper echelons of power. Gods have their own needs, goals, and agendas, so it’s entirely possible a government can politic with divinity.

Weaknesses

Religious organizations have their own needs and struggles and will expect something to come back its way from the government in exchange for its power base services. In some societies, religious organizations might have power and influence greater than the civic government’s, and such a government runs the risk of becoming a puppet. Consequently, a city government might have to continually resist religious influence on policy and governance.

Belief is something the government cannot control either, so its affiliation options are often dictated to them, either by the citizenship’s preferences or the regime’s, and if no favorable candidates are present, then the government must compromise or choose another power base.

Religions sometimes attract or create fanatics. These people can be dangerous to a government if there is an affiliation. They might create a scandal, go rogue, have diverse agendas, use questionable methods, and ally with other parties anathema to the administration.

In addition, religious organizations have their own enemies and detractors, and any strong affiliation usually makes these parties enemies of the government as well.

In the case of a theocracy, where government and religion are one, the power base might be limited by the dictates of the god(s), religious ceremony, and various restrictive procedures and religious laws.

Flavor

Aside from creating a theocracy, you can introduce religious flavor into your government a few different ways:

  • The will of the religion conflicts with the will of the government. While the government uses a religion as a power base, it tries to resist the dictates of religious leaders who might want opposing churches disbanded, other religions weakened or made illegal, land concessions, tax concessions, or other privileges. A church versus state plot thread can spice up any campaign.
  • The will of a religious official conflicts with the will of a government official. Consider bringing a church versus state conflict to a personal level between a politician and a religious leader. While the government and the religion might have a harmonious or workable relationship, one or more individuals within the organizations might be at each other’s throats.
  • The face and form of the government reflect a religion. Perhaps your city is in the early stages of forming a theocracy, or perhaps the religion is just subtly influencing the government. Regardless, the holy symbolism, trapping, and rites of a religion are slowly being integrated by the government. Perhaps the officials start to wear symbols of the religion as part of their official uniforms, or special prayers are said before various government functions.
  • Religious power bases are great for conspiracies. Does a god really control the strings? Is a religion behind the government’s recent unusual actions? Has a key government official or government group been subverted by a religion? Who is controlling whom, and what effects is this having on the populace?

Religion offers a rich area of city design. Pantheons, divine magic and miracles, politics, and worldly aspirations make religion a colourful city government power base.

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