This entry is part 6 in the series City Government Power Bases
What forces govern your city?

What forces govern your city?

A strong military is real, solid power. A city with a skilled, well-equipped and well-led army can protect itself, fend off its neighbours, go on a conquering binge, and keep its own citizens under control, though not necessarily all at once or in that order.

A politician with a private army can often get away with what he wants until someone with a bigger or better army comes along.


People can be coerced into doing many things when they’re at the bad end of a sword, making the military a powerful and influential card to have in any government’s hand. In addition, unlike city walls, the military is a mobile defense or weapon. This allows a government to influence its neighbors and, possibly, more distant powers.

The military is also good tool for taking what a government wants, whether it’s land from neighbouring cities or states, civil liberties from its citizens, or money and resources from anyone.

The military has its own internal, controllable, social and economic rules, which often makes it easier to wield than other power bases, such as affiliation or popularity.

A military is easy to develop as well, either through conscription, feudal obligation, recruitment or slavery. As a tool, it can be honed and shaped to the government or politician’s needs, making it quite flexible.

For example, a government might require a small navy, a larger land force, and a special unit of spell casters, based on its analysis of internal needs and external threats.

War itself is a potential power base. Wars tend to unify civic factions, freeing up government resources or providing government with breathing room to do its own plotting.

Wars provide good cover, as well. While the populace casts its gaze outside the city walls, the government can be quietly performing various actions and maneuvers that might meet with great outcry during peaceful times.

A war victory can launch many political careers as well, as soldiers and generals leverage increased fame from valorous deeds or great leadership, fortune from pillage, and popularity from victory and reputation.


There are few limits to an army, other than movement rates and supply logistics. While this makes the military a potent threat to a city’s enemies, it also makes it a deadly threat to a city’s own citizens.

Many cultures go to great lengths to protect themselves from their own military. A rogue general or ambitious politician might turn a civilization’s weapon against his kin. Consequently, some governments might decree that troops cannot enter the city proper or must remain a certain distance in miles from the city walls.

Others might have clear legal guidelines about who can order the military to do what. Different branches of a government might be given different executive powers where the army is concerned to establish a safe system of checks and balances.

Armies are expensive. They need food, water, supplies, equipment, training and fuel. Troops need wages, unless the motivation to serve and fight isn’t economic.

Leadership is a critical weak link as well. Superiority of numbers sometimes works against the enemy, but at the cost of great waste and long-term viability. Good leadership will not only make better use of fewer resources, but also maintain discipline and the ability to maintain an army in general.

This factors into loyalty, which is always a cause for concern. Unless discipline is tight and loyalty of the leadership assured, there’s no guarantee an army will do what a government or politician decrees.

A good military can attract unwanted attention. Other parties, such as neighbors, enemies and any higher powers the government serves, might fret about their safety with a rival military in their back yard. This might start unwanted conflicts or unify the opposition against the city. Therefore, as a power base, having a military can cause a great deal of trouble.

Wars can’t last forever, making them unstable power bases. They also tax the resources of all those involved. The government must also constantly assess whether the costs of a potential loss outweigh the benefits gained from war activity or from a potential victory.


The military provides great flavor opportunities:

  • Divisions and units. Different sections of the military have different functions, require unique equipment, and have different character and NPC class make-ups. Consider how different you can design parts of your city and the military folk who work or live there based on their function: navy, air force, land force, tunnelers, siege experts, war casters, magic defense, medical, administration, training and so on.
  • Uniforms. Every professional military unit has a uniform, and this clothing lets you distinctly color and decorate NPCs, villains and locations.
  • Military activity. Troops rarely get to rest. They’re always doing something. Put standard military activities into the background and foreground of your campaign: training, exercising, sleeping, eating, deploying, returning, patrolling, swabbing the decks, building equipment, cleaning equipment, assisting civilians, building public works, maintain public areas.
  • Military life. Civilians don’t salute. Right there is a unique roleplaying opportunity you can wield. Inject the military into your city. Have NPCs salute, bark orders, obey commands, stand at attention, goof off, function as a well-oiled team, curse and so on.

War is the backbone of many campaigns. War oozes flavor like blood and provides lots of possibilities for molding a great city design or campaign.

For starters, there’s the conflict itself. The PCs can encounter units fighting and join in or carefully sneak around. Then there’s conscription, press gangs, a nervous citizenship, siege, clandestine military operations, broken families and torn lovers.

There’s also the possibility of civil war. Imagine a city design where brother has fought brother for months or years. What is the condition of the city’s infrastructure? Who’s left standing? How does one survive?

Figure out the personality of your city’s military (or militaries). Will it be aggressive and domineering? Will it be quietly confident? Will it abuse its power, and if so, how?

Comment plot hooks for a chance to win NBOS software

It is time for another software giveaway, courtesy of NBOS.

Comment below your ideas for encounter seeds and hooks based on military civil power base. What kinds of encounters could PCs have in a city where military is the power base?

Multiple entries are welcome and give you a better chance of winning. I’ll draw the lucky winner Friday, so enter now before it’s too late.

The winner gets an NBOS software title of their choice, delivered electronically.

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