[In the Lab] Rulers - Notes on Ruling

So let's talk about the heart of the matter. Let's talk about rules. I don't mean the mechanics of the game, I mean the edicts that the characters can impose on each other. This is where I do a little bit of world-building to explain how to rule. First, here are the different types of rules, in order of greatest authority.

A fundamental principle of the universe, like the Law of Gravity. No one can create a law. Given standard conditions, a law applies equally to everything in the universe. That doesn't stop monarchs from trying to break them.

Alas, the universe doesn't bend to the will of even the most obstinate dictator. While laws can be merciless, they are fair and predictable. So, smart monarchs and wealthy sponsors fund scientific institutes to discover the laws. If no one can create a Law, then the strongest competitor is the one who knows the most about them.

Plus, on occasion, scientists discover clever loopholes around Laws, like airplanes, helicopters and rockets. This is how the world has still come to have many of the modern trappings we recognize. This world has limosines, the internet, menacing mega-cities and under-served rural areas.

For example, the city-state of Sun was founded on gunpowder. The explosive substance was developed in secret by an underground network of scientists. Cooperating with rural peasant castes and non-ruling Monarchs within the Imperial caste, they led a revolution against all rulers. To this day, the nation is controlled by a technocratic parliament unified by their xenophobic fear of rulers. They freely offer technology to any would-be rebels hoping to start a revolution in their own nation.

A statement expressing control over people's behavior. Unlike laws, rules are constraints specifically for people, made by people. Rulers are not uncommon, but great skill is rare and takes years to develop. Any child can say, "Don't come in my room!" but that has little sway over a determined parent. With education and training, that child may very well be able to hold a seemingly supernatural grip on her family, her neighbors and, some day, her very own kingdom.

When the skill to rule is in full bloom, a ruler commands the obedience of a person or persons who hear and comprehend their rule. It takes a great amount of mental energy to impose a rule, meaning most rules only apply to small areas, specific people, and short time-spans. Anyone who falls under a rules description will feel great compulsion to obey that rule.

For example, historical records describe Queen Alis creating a rule as a birthday gift for her cruel son Prince Trent. The rule states: "All men in my kingdom must wear red scarves on Prince Trent's birthday." The rule was printed on banners and pasted all over the kingdom. Loudspeakers were positioned at major thoroughfares, programmed to repeat the rule in five languages at sunrise. Each man woke with the desperate urge to find a red scarf, only none could be found. Royal servants offered baskets of white scarves to the public. Soon, the men turned on each other or themselves, turning their white scarves red. That night, fathers wept. Brothers hung their heads low. Prince Trent clapped with glee, watching CCTV feeds of the carnage.

That is an extreme example. Rules that impose an action on a large group of people are very difficult to maintain and require the complicity of many loyalists. Most rules actually impose inaction, since it is easier to command a person to do nothing. Doing nothing comes naturally.

Disobedience can have a wide variety of penalties. By default, the rebel will feel as if their bodies are under someone else's control. He can't pull the trigger. He can't step out of the way of the moving train. If the rule includes the clause "under penalty of ____," then further disobedience will result in pain, hallucinations, and other tortures. With enough stamina and training, disobedience is possible, though rarely without some cost.

Lastly, a rule or its penalties cannot break laws. So, a rule stating: "Children must fly," wouldn't give children that ability. It would compel children to try, much to their parents' dismay. There are other laws concerning ruling, described below.

A statement expressing control of one's own behavior. Think of these like self-imposed rules. These are easy to impose, because they only apply to one's self. Vows of silence are extreme, but common codes. More often, codes impose dietary restrictions, dogmatic rituals or onerous philosophical stances.

Codes offer a way to build discipline in the art of ruling. The more draconian and inconvenient the code, the more willpower it takes to obey it. Indeed, some rulers specifically choose codes knowing that they will contradict a kingdom's rules, just to put their wills against their opponent.

Laws of Ruling
Over time, royal clerics discovered several laws that govern the behavior and scope of rules. The order in which they're described varies by nation, but this is generally how they're recognized.

1. Laws are laws. As yet, no rule is written that successfully breaks any laws.

2. A rule is obeyed by its subjects, to the best of their abilities. Even if a rule contradicts a law, the subject will be compelled to obey that rule as best they can.

3. A spoken rule requires constant mental concentration. Therefore, the rule is no longer in effect if the ruler is in deep sleep, unconscious, or under severe stress. Indeed, few rulers can enforce more than one rule at a time. Fortunately, there is a way around this law.

4. A rule lives on in writing. As long as the rule is written down, its effect is maintained without the ruler's concentration. If the material the rule is written on is destroyed, then the ruler must again keep concentrating to keep its effect. Many rulers have their rules literally written in stone. (Or metal, or etched in diamond, etc.)

5. A subject must be able to understand the rule. Nations have been toppled by deaf or blind assassins, who were immune to a ruler's edicts. Illiterate barbarian hordes have ignored rules posted at a kingdom's gates. This is why most kingdoms have a single national language and compulsory elementary education.

6. Rules die with their ruler. Regardless, the death of a ruler ends any rules they have in place. Other rulers can keep those rules alive, if they choose to do so, but history shows that this is rarely the case.

7. Rules have limited dimension. Depending on the strength of a ruler, their rules can only extend a certain radius, apply to a certain number of people, be in effect for a certain amount of time, and contain a certain amount of complexity. Those are the four dimensions of ruling: Space, People, Time, Complexity.

8. Rules must be elegant. Some words are more powerful than others. All. None. No. Must. These are broad words and difficult to enforce in a rule. To compensate, a ruler may try to write a longer, more specific rule. The more ideas a rule encompasses, the harder it will be to maintain. An elegant rule rests balanced between specificity and complexity, imposing constraints in as simple a wording as possible.

9. Rules are stronger with allegiance. If a group of rulers agree to a set of rules and join their efforts together, that greatly increases their mutual strength. This creates a feedback loop, where ruled classes comply with the rules against their will, further cementing the rulers in their positions of power.

10. Rules can be broken. A foolish monarch trusts only in the power of his rules to control his kingdom. A wise monarch uses all tools at his disposal – including more mundane tactics like marketing, persuasion, intimidation – to keep power.

Phew! That's a lot of content in one post. I'll let it rest there for now.

EDIT: And watching Cairo riots on the live feeds from Al Jazeera right now, I wonder if this game should have more mechanical modeling for protests, riots and unrest in general. Hm.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.