Kingdom Building 101

Welcome to the third installment of Everyman Gaming’s GM’s Guide articles. In this GM’s Guide, we’ll be talking about kingdom building.

I don’t think I can sing enough praises about Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Campaign product. It is absolutely fantastic in practically every way. From the useful background generator to the innovative downtime mechanics, the entire book is designed to help players and GMs tell stories rather than win combats. Today, I’m going to be talking a bit about my absolute favorite part of Ultimate Combat, the kingdom building rules.

History of Kingdom Building

The kingdom building rules have their history in one of Paizo’s adventure paths, Kingmaker. As the name implies, the mechanics were absolutely necessary to play the adventure: the campaign is based around founding a nation in a relatively contested region on Avistian and the turmoil that results from your successes or failures. The kingdom building rules were first presented in Kingmaker’s second volume, Rivers Run Red, and are essential to playing the adventure path at all.

Flashing a few years forward to Ultimate Campaign, Paizo refined the kingdom building rules by tightening some exploitive rules (such as the infinite BP loop) and added plenty of new additions such as additional leadership roles, integration with the settlement rules, and plenty of crazy subsystems to allow your kingdom to make truces and declare war on foes.

Why Should I Use Kingdom Building?

This is often the first question I often get when I suggest the kingdom building rules to others: why should I? Here are the common arguments that I often see against kingdom building:

  • It gives too much control to my players. When you give players the right to build their own kingdoms, they’re no longer under any obligation to follow your rules or experience your nations. After all, they’re building their own nation, right?
  • It’s too paperwork-intensive. There is a LOT to keep track of when you’re kingdom building; from city structure to total bonuses kingdoms are a hassle for players and GMs to manage.
  • It causes time to pass by too quickly in the campaign world. A kingdom’s turn is about one month of time, so the kingdom either advances slowly between games or time seems to rocket past the PCs as years go by before the kingdom gets up on its feet.

To that end, here are some responses to these concerns:

  • Giving players control is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the players aren’t forced to do whatever you tell them or act in accordance to specific legal restrictions because for the most part, they’re the legal authority within their own kingdoms. That said, nothing fosters immersion like control. When your players have personally sat down and crafted a nation for themselves they’re a million times more invested in your story involving pirates that come to raid what is now literally their home or when an orcish horde threatens to invade and destroy the capital city. Giving up control in some ways allows you to assert additional control in others.
  • Kingdom building is very banal when it comes to paperwork. There’s a lot to keep track up. There is nothing I can offer you that will make this less true. If you’re interested in using kingdom building, however, it’s best to get organized early and stick to your strategy. Find something that works for you!
  • Time passing in a campaign setting is NOT a bad thing. If anything, the passage of time adds more believability to the natural leveling progression. Instead of rapidly gaining the skills of a super athlete over the course of several weeks, kingdom building offers an excuse to slow down a little bit and actually play with character development. I consider the passage of time a strength of kingdom building, not a weakness.

Kingdom Building Basics

So, you want to use kingdom building? Here’s the absolute bare-minimum that you need to know in order to successfully use the system.

  • Kingdom management is built around three statistics: Economy (financial checks), Loyalty (population checks), and Stability (government checks). You make Economy checks proactively once per month to generate income, while the other two checks are reactive to the situation. These checks are opposed by the kingdom’s Control DC, which is set by the number of hexes and settlements within the kingdom among other factors. In short, its harder to command a large government than a small government.
  • The kingdom’s government is managed by a series of important individuals who occupy leadership roles within the government. These roles range from ruler to councilor to royal enforcer. They are very widespread. For nearly all of the positions, bad things happen if a character does not occupy the role and while occupied, the character provides benefits to the kingdom based on his competence in the role. Because there are roughly a dozen roles, your PCs need to recruit other NPCs to help keep the government afloat.
  • High Economy checks earn BP (or Build Points) for the kingdom. These points are roughly worth 4,000 gp in resources, labor, and political influence each and are used to construct terrain improvements and settlements. As a result, it is important to make sure that you have a good Economy bonus.
  • The kingdom is run in “turns,” which each equate to a one-month period. Each “turn” the kingdom checks to make sure everything is all right with its treasury, government, and citizens, then an Economy check is made to generate income for the government.

Setting Up an Empire

Without a doubt, one of the hardest parts of running a kingdom building campaign is fitting it into your world. Many GMs make the mistake of building a world with a lack of open space for this sort of thing, which makes it very difficult to come up with the idea of nation building. Here are some quick thoughts:

  • Island Union: If you don’t have any room on your map to build a nation, take to the see. Have your PCs scour for land across the open ocean and construct a series of powerful island states that are conjoined under one ruler.
  • Add a New Continent: If islands aren’t your thing, take a step back and add a new continent to your world. Maybe a hidden land reveals itself to the PCs Pandaria style (see World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria) or maybe a super volcano erupts out to sea, creating a new landmass for your players to explore. Or maybe there’s simply a continent out there that no one has bumped into yet for various reasons. Whether your PCs are conquerors or Columbuses (though Columbus might have been both), you can always have your beloved nations on your main land vying to take control of the newly found land and resources as well, leading up to American Revolution-style shenanigans.
  • Dissolve an Exiting Nation: Pick your weakest kingdom and either flat-out destroy it or give your PCs the task of dissolving it and rebuilding their own nation from the ashes. Maybe the government collapses after a major disaster wrecks the nation’s capital. Or the PCs need to dethrone a corrupt ruler and when they do, the nation breaks apart into squabbling noble estates that the PCs must conquer or negotiate with to reunite into a single sovereign power while trying to fend off opportunistic neighbors.
  • Go Extraplanar: Give your PCs reason to take to another plane and have them build their kingdom there. Have your PCs face off against powerful natives and killer terrain. For example, what’s the implication of kingdom building in the timeless Astral Plane, where physical resources are scare but labor isn’t because time doesn’t pass there? Because these planes are infinite, there is plenty of opportunity there for PCs to explore.

And with that said, here are some quick personal anecdotes for you to enjoy.

Anecdote 1 — Revolution of Sigmar

The first time I had ever used kingdom building was for a player who specifically wanted to claim his own nation as part of his backstory. To this end, I used my own “dissolve an existing nation,” advice. The player sought to rally up enough support within the kingdom to declare war on it. It was a pretty neat idea and lent itself well to the feeling of, “If we’re caught, we’ll all be executed.”

Of course, there are things I did wrong in this campaign (this is the Yellow Prophet campaign, which you can read about in my Flavors of Villainy article) but overall I’d consider the kingdom building aspects a smashing success.

Anecdote 2 — Fall of Westmark

I think I’ve referred to this campaign before. In what I ended up calling my Mongrella campaign, one of my players decided that she wanted to champion the people of a specific city and build and run an organization there. It was a good idea and I loved it, but the problem was that the government I constructed for that city was far too strict to allow something like that unhindered. So what did I do? I hit the city with a massive earthquake, leveling it. Hundreds of thousands of people died or were physically displaced from their homes and the fallout of that event is still being felt in that campaign. The destruction of the government that was impeding the fun made it much easier to give my PCs a defining presence in the new government. It was a ballsy move on my part if I do say myself. None of my players ever thought that I’d actually destroy the city. Heh, heh, heh.

And that, folks, is my intro to kingdom building. What do you think? Did I sufficiently cover this topic or did I miss a major aspect of kingdom building in my quick little demo? Would you want to see me talk more about kingdom building? What about the other bits of “downtime” rules in Ultimate Campaign? Do you have any kingdom building stories to share? Leave your answers and comments below and I’ll see you next time!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune mammoth lord, and no, he’s never actually played a kitsune mammoth lord. But oh, the possibility!


2 thoughts on “Kingdom Building 101

  1. You uh… missed the part about sharing tips for staying organized 😛

    I didn’t realize there was an infinite loop in the original Kingmaker rules until you posted it. Not really sure what you’re talking about other than building a lot of magical item shops.

    I was playing in Kingmaker at one point (dropped out due to severe issues with the GM), and for me, the Kingdom building was the best part. I was playing an Item Crafter Wizard that I fancied as being the magical equivalent of Da Vinci. I had all kinds of ideas for magical items, magical weapons, magical buildings etc. that he would design and build… but my GM never let me run with the idea. He was determined to make the populace fear me as an evil, tyrannical necromancer wizard that enslaved the rulers of the kingdom with my foul magic.

    Was not a lot of fun for me when I couldn’t walk down the streets without the people of the city running away or trying to kill me. 😦

    Anyway, I loved the Kingdom building part, and I was the only person in my group who understood it all. I missed a session one week due to illness, and they attempted to run the kingdom building without me. For 7 hours they poured over the rules and tried to get it all in order, and managed only to advance by 4 months. When I showed up at the next sessions, we advanced 15 months in 45 minutes. Then I took the books home and audited them all for the next session and found out they messed up a little, but no biggie.

    As for keeping track… Spreadsheets can be a big help. I got a spreadsheet off the Kingmaker forums from somewhere (don’t recall where) that came to be a massive help for the group, but only fore a short time. I found the spreadsheet, and about 4 sessions after, I dropped out. I’m the only one who could run the spreadsheet, so I ended up taking it with me.

    If you don’t do it electronically, here’s what we did for a long time. Get yourself a few maps of the area, make one map be the ‘Hexes claimed’ map; one good way is to have the are black and white and color in the claimed areas. Make one map be a ‘what type of hex’ map (as in farm hex, forest hex, city hex etc.); you can include things like roads and bridges on this map. Then, make a ‘GM Map’ that has all of the special hexes outlined (like landmarks, resources etc).

    Get yourself a notebook and make a template for the ‘month’ sheet you will be using. For example, make a place for the Kingdom size, Control DC, Economic bonus etc. Every month you do, write down everything that was done so you can go back and make sure everything is correct.

    In a separate notebook, create a master list of each building in the Kingdom. Then divy up those buildings per district. Make sure to write in a little summary of what each building gives to the kingdom.

    It helps to have a master list of how each thing is totaled. For example, what all adds to the Kingdom Size, what and who all adds to the Economy bonus etc. Make sure that this list is updated each time group ‘does a month’.

    Don’t forget to delegate!!!! Make sure to split the work up some one person isn’t doing all of the work, ***ESPECIALLY THE GM*** The GM does enough work already, keeping track of the Kingdom as well leads to burnout.

    I learned a lot from the Kingdom Building about the system; I’m not afraid of that beast. Unfortunately, no one else in my group is at all interested in the rules for either Kingdom Building nor the Downtime System 😦

    Bastards probably didn’t have enough legos as a child. I blame Cosmo, and the parents, but mostly Cosmo.

    • Oops, fixed that.

      While writing this article, I decided that I could do an entire GM’s Guide about staying organized, so that’s what I’m going to do!

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