[In the Lab] Rulers - Introduction and Situations

Last year, I'm kicking around a loose outline for a game setting, possibly something for an RPG. It's inspired by rules-oriented fantasy like Lost, Deathnote, Highlander, Fullmetal Alchemist and Inception. Stories that present a set of rules, then follows characters as they explore the boundaries of those rules. The setting closely resembles our modern world with some notable twists.

First, all nations are monarchies, with varying ranges of oppression. A handful really severe third-world dictatorships exist, but most nations are quite livable. All the trappings of first-world modern society exist, like suits and cars and jobs and the internet.

Second, some people have an ability to rule. That is, they can create a rule like "No one may enter this room without my permission." or "Men must bow in my presence." and the universe obeys, to an extent. It takes a significant amount of willpower to impose and maintain a rule, but it is easier when the rule is worded carefully and specifically.

Third, people who rule are, naturally, Rulers. They are members of a ruling elte. However, the ability to rule is not hereditary. Being in the monarchy does not necessarily mean you can rule, nor vice versa. That is potentially a source of tension. A rule does not need to be public for its effects to take place, which makes navigating the social dynamics of rulers precarious.

Fourth, there are Laws, which supercede most Rules. Laws of gravity, of thermodynamics, etc. You can try to break these laws with rules, but you can usually only do so on small scales. It is far easier to make Rules for human behavior than for physics, but it can be done.

The central "cool thing" of the setting is people finding loopholes or directly trying to break rules. However, that's not enough of a situation to get a story going. I need something compelling for players to do. I'm no good at making "sandbox" games, particularly role-playing games, in which there's a big open world that has a lot of potential situations.

Thankfully, my friends are all very smart, creative people. They had suggestions on Story-Games and on Twitter. Here are some highlights.

Explore the DMZ
» "The situation that comes to my mind is a country where the former monarchy has fallen for an unknown reason, leaving the land without a visible ruler and the people left in anarchy. Certain neighboring nations have taken the opportunity to snatch it up for what little mineral wealth and strategic advantages it offers, but none have been able to gain a foothold because of an intricate web of Rules that stymie their advances, leaving it an awkward demilitarized zone. The characters are agents of an interested, though not actively involved nation, that seeks to find out how to work around these shadow Rules, and who might be responsible for them."

Rulers vs. Monarchs
» "Many, maybe most, Monarchs are not themselves Rulers. They rely on Rulers to get stuff done. So why aren't Rulers the Monarchs? Maybe they're a hated caste. Or feared."

Climb the Social Ladder
» "It sounds to me like the situation is rising in this hierarchy. This is something that Vampire tried, but from a system perspective at least, failed in my opinion. It told you there was this cool political hierarchy with complicated rules but then didn't really let you rise, in my experience. This setting sounds like it can scratch that itch."

Power behind the Throne
» "I know it's not what you're thinking right now, but it might be curious to play the advisors to a Ruler... people who want to shape the world but have to convince their King or Queen to do what they want. This might work well with your failure mechanics, in which you discover not that you've failed but that someone has beaten you to a Ruling with an earlier Rule that goes against what you want now... and undoing a Rule is difficult or costly."

Rules Lawyers
» "I have been thinking about the role of lawyers in a setting like this. I think they woul be immensely valuable to rulers who would rely on them to keep track of all of the rules that they and those around them made. Knowledge of the Rules seems like a pretty important stat!"

Anyhoo, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to Rulers, so I'll split this up into a series of posts under the "rulers" tag. Look for more posts in coming weeks.

» Original Story-Games Thread
» Image from NBC's canceled series Kings
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.