22 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 14: Social Strata

The final parts of the cultural details are the various power structures used by each group.

Overall, the power structure of a setting is typically defined by the power structure of the dominant group, in this case it’s the aristocracy of the Empire of the Sun. In order to avoid a major conflict with this dominant group, other cultures pay lip service to the Empire’s aristocracy (at worst), and in some cases follow it fanatically (at best); but most people just let the empire deal with their own matters while living their lives according to their own cultural values. As long as the empire doesn’t demand too much of them and provides protection, the colonial folks and privateers are happy to pay their taxes, those who don’t like it move away to Trader’s Port, go native, or quietly plot rebellion in the shadows.

El Imperio del Sol (The Empire of the Sun)
(Aristocracy)

King and Queen in the Old World
^
Governor
^
Inner Council
^
Courtiers and Nobles
^
Typical Citizens
^
Outsiders and Children


La Santo Orden del Profeta (The Holy Order of the Prophet)
(Theocracy)

The Celestine
^
The Prophet (on par with the archangels)
^
Other Prophets and Popes (on par with the angels)
^
Archbishops
^
Bishops
^
Other Clergy
^
Followers of the Holy Order (including child followers)
^
Heathens and Pagans


Los Corsarios (The Privateers)
(Military)

The Captain (and his documentation of service to a patron nation)
^
First Mate
^
Senior Crew
^
Junior Crew
^
Other Seafarers
^
Landlubbers


Los Lobos del Mar (The Wolves of the Sea)
(Democracy)

The Captain
^
First Mate
^
Senior Crew
^
Junior Crew
^
Other Seafarers
^
Landlubbers


La Colonia (The Colony)
(Meritocracy)

Town Elder
^
Town Council
^
Elders
^
Adults
^
Children and Outsiders


Los Salvajes de la Isla (The Island Savages)
(Tribal Aristocracy)

Island King
^
Village Chief
^
Village Noble Warriors, Scholars and Crafters
^
Other Warriors, Scholars and Crafters
^
Unproven Adults and Children


La Orden de la Luna (The Order of the Moon)
(Meritocracy)

Cult Heirophant
^
Cult Cell Leader
^
Cultist
^
Outsider

 
How do we tie these hierarchies into story? That’s pretty easy, especially in a LARP where you have dozens of players, often with three or more in virtually every power structure. This is a setting where stories of intrigue play a role, where rebellion stirs in the lower ranks of society while the higher ranks try to hold power with a steel fist in a velvet glove, where revolutionaries struggle to gain power while remaining relevant to the “common person on the street”. When someone respects a power structure, they anchor a part of their persona to it, if they want to gain power within that structure, they need to respect the structure, and in turn that means they need to respect the people who already have power within it. If they choose to engage channels outside the structure, they show a lack of respect for the structure and will find it easier to be kicked out and harder to ascend the ranks. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Thus builds the frustration, and the need to work in the shadows. Assassinations make openings in the hierarchy, blackmail lubricates a slide between social strata (hopefully down for your enemies and up for you), wealth and prestige turn the tables. It might also be possible for characters to hold different ranks according to different social power systems, in the marketplace ruled by the social structure of the colonists, Ian may be higher in prestige than Jacinta (he is on the town council, she is a regular citizen), but behind closed doors according to the ways of the cult (where he is simply a cultist and she is a cult cell leader) she outranks him. People will go out of their way to choose meeting places where they have the social edge. In our previously illustrated relationship maps for each location, we’ve defined the most prestigious person in the web, but if you wanted to be more specific, you could rank everyone according to their positions in each power structure to see who has the upper hand in each relationship.


Honestly, that’s too much work for me to get into for most games, but if we find that there are players who have an aptitude for that sort of thing, we can always assign the task to them.
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