Friday, September 24, 2021

More on Skills - Rulership, from Sword of Cepheus

Or, How to be The Boss

This post is mostly about Sword of Cepheus, but I will bring it back around to Classic Traveller.

I have not seen a skill by this name, or with its implications, in any other game that I can think of. All that we are given in the Sword of Cepheus skills list is this:

Rulership: administration and dealing with realms, bureaucracies and the law. Also covers forgery.”  So, what this guy did for a living:

"L'etat, c'est Moi." 

As given, Rulership is a conflation of the CT skills Administration, Bribery, Forgery, and Legal. What interests me is the phrase “dealing with realms”.

What does this imply about the setting of the game? My read is that characters may end up in charge of realms, whether kingdoms, duchies, towns etc. They can end up as Rulers in Sword of Cepheus. If Conan the Cimmerian can do it, why can't your PCs? I would love to see Stellagama publish a realm-building supplement.

Let us call this Type I Rulership. There can also by Types II & III.

If your game works better by letting Rulership address all of these disparate tasks equally, well and good. If you want more nuance in handling this broad-application skill, read on.

Who gets Rulership skill? Nobles do, obviously (at Rank 3, 2 skill slots), but so do Commoners (at Rank 3), Pirates (only 1 Adv Ed skill slot), Priests (1 skill slot), Rogues (1 skill slot), Sailors (1 skill slot), Scholars (at Rank 1! 2 skill slots), Soldiers (1 skill slot), and Vagabonds (1 skill slot). So just about everybody except Shamans and Barbarians. I think this is odd. Unless you keep in mind the wide range of tasks this skill covers.

I'll see your realm and raise you a couple.
Commoners and Vagabonds don't rule realms. So what can the regular folk do with Rulership skill? The other parts are interacting with the laws, and the people that make up governments – like Castellans and Sheriffs. Let us call this Type II Rulership.

For clarification, here are some medieval-sounding job titles, who may be encountered in the courts.

  • Castellan, or seneschal – governor of a castle
  • Chancellor – high official, may be in charge of justice or finances
  • Warden – person who oversees an important place or activity
  • Steward – a regent or official representative of a monarch

All of these people could have Rulership skill, of the Type II variant.

Any literate society will have some amount of written records of things, births, marriages, deaths, crimes committed, etc. Anything written or painted or illumined can be reproduced and/or altered to the advantage of somebody.

Forgery, then we will call the Type III variant.

I recognize that this is, in effect, making one skill I to 3. But I think it makes sense given the vast swath of activities this skill is supposed to cover. Again, if you can handle having one skill do all this, let it be and game on.

Who gets which type?

Nobles or anyone with a noble-level SOC gets Type I. Note that while skill level determines if a PC is successful, it is Social Standing that will determine whether a PC with Type I is actually a ruler. Skill is not enough – the PC must be seen as a ruler by others. Type I may not require a high INT or EDU to use successfully. This is a social skill.

Types II & III should be hindered by a low EDU score – you've got to be able to read to forge or make or read court records. Again Social Standing determines if a PC with Type II is a “barracks lawyer” or a Judge Advocate General.

Sailors, soldiers, vagabonds, priests, rogues, scholars and pirates will most likely get Type II. They interact with courts of law, as well as the hierarchical organizations to which many belong.

Commoners, vagabonds and rogues or anyone with a low SOC score (5-) may get Type III. This is a criminal activity.

Note that the bureaucratic state as we know it did not exist, at least in the West, until the 16th century or so. Aquilonia did not have a 2,000 page tax code, or a department of water quality. If you want your game to have this, have at it; but it is inconsistent with the sword & sorcery genre.

How does this skill differ from Leadership?

Leadership is personal and focused on combat, Rulership is impersonal and focused on statecraft. Leadership is a manifestation of Charisma, the ability to influence. The skill description reads: Leadership: motivating and directing others often in times of crisis. Motivating and directing is persuading people to agree with your ideas, and carry out your plans.

Rulership is the skill of wielding power. It comes with the implicit threat of 'do this or else'. Therefore, rulership is only partly about getting people to comply. The bigger part is having the sense to know what's the right thing to do.

Could this be used for the directing of large armies in battle? Rulers were at one time expected to be out in front of their army, leading the way.

What is a Realm?

This is a casual definition, good enough for a role-playing game, and not a geopolitical one. A realm is an organization with a monopoly on the means of coercion within a specific territory plus the society that inhabits that territory. This can be a solitary manor of a few acres, or an empire of thousands of square miles.

Rulers of realms are part of the realm, and interact with its society in many ways. Rulers are responsible to the society of their realm, just as the people are responsible to the ruler. The “absolute monarch” concept we know today was not known everywhere, and there is debate as to how absolute any of them were. For example, King John signed the Magna Carta because his Barons forced him to, if he wanted to keep the throne. In your game, a ruler who tries for absolutism should find his tasks more difficult and unrest more common. I adapted my definition from this essay here: Long War with the State.

Rulers provide security for the realm by leading the fighting forces against foes. They dispense justice, often by traveling the realm and holding law courts in local areas. The people should expect to get some services from the Ruler in exchange for their loyalty and taxes. If they don't there will be unrest.

Sometimes the best action a Ruler can take is to intentionally do nothing. Let the people sort out their local business, because they know the details and have to live with the outcomes. Rulers can't and don't know everything, and a wise Ruler knows his limits. External meddling leads to unintended consequences, from factors not recognized form the outside.

That said, unrest is great for adventurers, who can be hired to either quell or embolden unrest, depending on who hires them. But unrest is not good for the Ruler.

Possible Rulership tasks

Maintain your domain in stability: Rulership 5+, throw every month/season/year, depending on the overall stability of the realm. What was the Effect of the previous Rulership throw? Use as a DM on the next one. This reflects the public confidence that rulers need.

Other tasks for a Ruler:

  • Negotiate a treaty with a neighboring power: Rulership 7+
  • Keep order during a crisis or natural disaster: Rulership 8+
  • Administer Justice to your subordinates: Rulership 5+
  • Settle a dispute between subordinate Rulers: Rulership 6+
  • Set up a rebellious lord to expose himself as a traitor so you can arrest him: Rulership 10+ 
  • Put down an insurrection or work out a settlement: Rulership 10+
  • Pull off a Xanatos Gambit: that's actually in the realm of the player, not the PC. Still, that would be some epic role-playing. 

How to integrate this into Classic Traveller?

Pretty simple. Look at my post on the Noble career. Swap out some of the Leadership slots with Rulership (type I). Any character with SOC A+, regardless of career can switch out a Leadership, Admin or Liaison skill slot for Rulership.

Rulership comes into play when the PCs start achieving High Level play. When interacting and competing with Counts and Dukes becomes commonplace, Rulership becomes the go-to skill.

I'm going to suggest a hierarchy of sorts here with the persuading/influencing skills:  Rulership is the Strategic level of influencing people, Leadership is the operational level, Liaison is the tactical level.

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