23 January 2011

Foundation: a kingdom-building rpg (idea)

I have always loved the kingdom and city building elements of video games like Suikoden and Actraiser. There is something compelling about searching out people to fill your city, managing the day to day conflicts and the dealing with politics and war. It is something I really enjoy, but aside from a few supplements it's also something I rarely see in the tabletop RPG world.

I remember the Birthright setting for D&D, but it seems to have slipped away into obscurity. Birthright doesn't seem to have had the staying power that other D&D settings, like Plansecape or Spelljammer, did. Then there is Reign, but while that game does have some great rules for player organizations it doesn't have the kind of focus that I'm interested in.

The popularity of the Kingmaker Adventure Path shows that I'm not the only one that thinks this style of play is fun. I got to thinking, "How would I make an RPG focused around this kind of play?"


A game in which the players build up their own fantasy city/country/kingdom from the ground up. Each player controls a Founder or Leader (if no Founders are left living). A founder is only as good as their followers and throughout the game the players will regularly role play as both their Founder and the followers that work under their Founder. Additionally, players will also have opportunity to role play as a follower of one of the other founders under certain circumstances. The followers a Founder gathers affect the skills and abilities that are mechanically available to a founder.

Design Goals
  1. To capture the fun of city building and kingdom politics while maintaining an easy to use/learn system.
  2. To provide a fun game for both players that want to build a mighty utopia and play through the obstacles towards that goal as well as allowing for political conflict for players that want to play something a little... sleazier.
  3. Provide mechanics for conflict between other cities/kingdoms as well as internal conflict, either between players (founder) or NPC factions.

Some Rough Ideas

This game is strictly in the "batting around ideas" phase. What follows are some of the things I have been thinking about.

Player Characters as Founders

For me, at least, I see this game beginning when the player characters stake out some territory and found their new city. In Foundation each of the players takes on the role of one of the founders of a new settlement/city/kingdom/etc.

A Founder would be made up of a few key elements, but the most important of these are their Background, Influence and Entourage.


Unlike with a lot of RPGs where player characters start out as relative unknowns the Founders have already made a name for themselves. They already have the necessary fame or infamy to gather people for their cause. Think of their Background as being a package that sums up their career to this point. It's equal parts character class and back story.

An example Background might be "War Hero" or "Noble". Backgrounds could give the character some abilities or starting stats. I might throw in some more narrative mechanics into the background by giving each Background some blanks that need to be filled in. For example, a War Hero would have to define the war, where it happened and if they were on the winning side. I could see this working something like Apocalypse World's Hx or Fate's Aspects. I could also imagine using some random tables with the Backgrounds that work like a limited lifepath, something like what you see with Traveller's Careers. This is definitely something that needs some more thought.

Influence is a currency stat. It would be used during play to make things happen. I see Influence as a stat that powers a Founder's abilities and can also be directed towards different factions and goals. For example, if a Founder has 10 Influence they might decide to spend 3 of it towards the Ranger's Guild, 4 to Bankers and the remaining 3 to Public Relations. This influence could be slid around during the course of play and provides bonuses/re-rolls when dealing with those factions/goals.

The Entourage is the meat of any Founder.  Founders didn't just get up one day and decide they would build a community from the ground up. They are powerful and influential people with a history. An Entourage includes all of the Followers that are at the disposal of a Founder.

While part of an Entourage a Follower grants skills and abilities to their Founder. For example, a thief's knack for procuring items grants their Founder the ability to pickpocket while a mage allows for the casting of spells.  A Founder that has a bodyguard in the Entourage has increased physical capabilities to overcome challenges (or rather, they have someone to overcome it for them). A bodyguard might also give them the "take a hit" ability which would allow the player to sacrifice the bodyguard so that their Founder can avoid death.

Followers are not always part of the Entourage. There are times when a Founder may assign a Quest (more on this in a bit) to one of their followers and when they do that follower must leave the Entourage in order to accomplish it. If a follower leaves an Entourage then any skills/abilities granted by their presence are lost until their return.

This size of the Entourage should be limited and increasing the size of the Entourage is one of two "leveling" mechanics in Foundation. (The second is increasing the size of the city/kingdom.)

Multiple Characters for Each Player

Taking a page from Ars Magica's book, Foundation has players to take ownership and play from the veiwpoint of any of the characters in their Founder's Entourage. A Founder doesn't leave their city to track down some magical item or a skilled artisan, they send one of their trusted followers. At this point the game could change to that character's viewpoint and players could enjoy a dungeon crawl or just RP out a quick scene.

Not every group is going to like switching the focus like this. In fact, maybe the players want to keep things at the macro level. That's no problem, if I include some tables for players to get an idea of how one of their followers does on a quest then that should allow for quick resolution for those that want it.

City/Kingdom as a Character

The city/kingdom should be treated like a shared player character. It should have its own set of stats and abilities determined by its demographics and physical makeup. Founders could spend Influence to activate abilities.

  • Unrest as a stat. This would probably be a percentage and would be determined by events and actions of the Founders. Unrest rolls would be rolled regularly and if the roll falls within the Unrest % then something bad happens. (Maybe there should be an Unrest table that could be used to generate a random Unrest event?)
  • Buildings and Factions each grant abilities to the city. A cathedral might allow for a Holy Day ability that could be used to lower Unrest.

Player "Generated" Starting Map

I think it would be a lot of fun to have the players generate the map that their city is founded on. This could be done using a set of hexes with players taking turns rolling on a table and then placing elements in a desired hex. Things to place could be resources, points of interest, threats (monsters/rival settlements/bandit camps/etc.) and geographical features. I could look to How to Host a Dungeon and Dawn of Worlds for inspiration on how to put this together.

Passage of Time

The game should proceed in rounds, with each round representing a chunk of time. The players should probably decide on how much time to start with, but I think either 1 month or 1 season would be a good place to start at.

For each of these chunks of time the players decide what their Founders want to do. That might be trying to make connections with a certain guild, expanding their Kingdom's borders or even trying to lure someone important to their city. In addition, for each one of these rounds some rolls should be made. The first would be the Unrest Roll discussed above and the second should be on a Random Events Table that would have things on it like "besieged by goblins" or "crime wave". These events would create obstacles for the Founders to overcome or risk the Unrest rising. Of course, not all events should be negative. There could be windfalls, important people joining the settlement and other positive results.


This one has me a bit stumped. Should this game be GMless or should it have someone in the traditional role of storyteller/game master? It wouldn't be hard to tweak Influence to work as a narrative currency like you see in games like Universalis. It might also work to have the GM role switch to a different Founder for each Round. This one definitely requires more mulling over.


Phew. That was quite the brain-dump. I really do like the idea of this game, but I don't know if all of these ideas fit together as snuggly as I would like them to. I definitely need to let this game bounce around in my head for a while and see what happens with it.


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