Thursday, June 1, 2017

Orphans of the Stars: Boardroom and Curia as Organizations

The Imperial Court by Pictsy
The next of our triumverate is organizations, the people who actually build, maintain and attack the capital nobles use to enhance their power.  For this, the obvious choice is to tackle GURPS Boardroom and Curia, which was designed for running organizations.

So, today, I take a look at what these organizations can do for us, and how PCs will maintain them (as that's the core premise of Orphan of the Stars: You run one of your lord's major organizations to enact his will).

Orphans of the Stars

Boardroom & Curia

Alright, so the next step in Varys’ riddle is that of King, and organization. Most of my previous work in this regard has been focused on Pulling Rank, but that assumes characters work for an organization in an Action-like context. In Orphans of the Stars, our characters will head organizations: we’ll have a spymaster who runs the spies, and a general who runs the military, and so on. Thus, our characters are less concerned with how to get the organization to do something for them, and more concerned with how to turn it into a weapon they can use against their enemies.

Of course, my mandate is a little less clear on this point. Are they the heads of organizations or part of a larger organization, but this belies the real nature of organizations. A true organizational is not linear, but fractal. That is, you do not have a general above a colonel above a major, but a general in charge of several colonels, who are each in charge of several majors. And the nature of the organzation differs depends on which branch you look at. The House rules over its military, its spies, and its bureaucrats, and the general runs the military and the spy master runs the spy rings, and the chancellor runs the bureaucries, and so on. Thus, I would argue that it’s within my mandate that the player characters both serve their house and run their organizations at the same time.

Some Vampire: the Masquerade fans joke that they’re playing “Middle Management: the Roleplaying Game,” and that principle isn’t far off from what we want for Orphans of the Stars. The PCs do not represent grunts who act on the whim of their superiors, but at the same time, they do not each run their own house. They have people who answer to them, and they answer to someone, though it should be noted that they’re very high up the chain (they answer directly the the master of the House or, barring that, to someone very close to the master of the House). Thus, they must both manage their own organization, and they must “manage” their master and, in this way, steer the great ship of their noble house through the courses of the fraught politics of their setting.

So, for this reason, I’ve chosen Boardroom and Curia as the basis for my organizational gameplay, and I’m going to look at it as a source of research. Let’s see what’s in it.

Organization Stats

Organizational Name and Mission Statement

Names aren’t that important, though you need them and they’ll serve as an anchor for how your players talk about the organization. Personally, I find mission statement more profoundly important. Some might be fairly obvious, like “Spies spy” and “Soldiers soldier,” but I don’t think every organization will or should break down so easily. Perhaps soldiers build, or spies fight, or you have weird religions or conspiracies that do all kinds of things.

Mission statements might also include something of a philosophy within it, which is something I definitely encourage for houses: the “motto.” You see these in Game of Thrones, and I used them in Cherry Blossom Rain, grabbing typical Japanese sayings (or things that sounded like them) and turning them into one-line statements about the philosophy of the house, such as “Even a blind man can see the path of duty,” or “Bushido is the art of war” or “In victory, all is forgiven.” Each says a lot about the house, and as the players get to know that house more and more, the deeper their understanding of the motto becomes.

Organization Capabilities

Tech Level is 10. No need to dive deeper.

Members represents the population of the organization. This ultimately tackles the complexity too, because more people means more heirarchy and more management necessary to coordinate all the people. The total number of ranks will have a logarithmic association with the number of people (typically, a 5 man organization will have 1 rank, a 25 man one will have 2 ranks, a 125 one will have 3 ranks, and so on).

Wealth governs how many resources the organization has, overall. Here, it’s rather vague, but it goes into much more detail later.

Contacts determines the skill-set the characters typically have and how much skill. Incidentally, these fall in line with Mass Combat skill levels (as noted later in the book): Poor is skill 12 (for contacts) or 9 (for soldiers), Basic is skill 15 (or 12), Good is skill 18 (or 15) and Elite is skill 21 (or 18). Later on, we’ll see that Administration contact level determines how agile and flexible an organization is. That is, more “elite” organizations respond faster to a crisis.

Member Traits: This isn’t something I really want to dive into right now. It’s mostly “Cops get Legal Enforcement, priests get Clerical Investment” and so on. It has a very interesting section on self-imposed mental disadvantages and how you cannot expect them to be mandatory. I think that’s true, but it’s a topic I’d like to revisit when we get to ideology.

Notable Resources represent physical capital available to your organization: training facilities, secret headquarters, spy satellites, etc.

Reaction Time modifier: Personally I find this trait a little irritatingly hard to pin down. Does this sort of time-scale really matter? Still, it highlights an interesting relationship: the larger an organization gets (the more members), the slower it gets, but the better trained it is, the faster it responds. A commando army of 1000 soldiers with Admin skill 21 turns on a dime (Reaction Time at TL 10 = -1), while a swollen army of a million poorly trained soldiers with Admin 12 moves very slowly (Reaction time +4 at TL 10). I find it an interesting confluence, and I’d like to use it, but perhaps not the way the book does.

Costs and Values

Startup Costs: This seems irrelevant, but it ties into values that come later. It’s effectively base pay for TL times wealth times population, so an average TL 11 earner brings in $5000, and if you have a million strong and they’re all Comfortable, you’re looking at a startup cost of $10 billion. This is further modified by improvements made to Contacts (that is, training) or mandatory traits.

Resource Value is 0.5% of the starting cost (so, in our example, $25 million), though this uses full starting cost, including the price of having a more elite set of contacts or having mandatory traits, like Legal Enforcement Powers. That rule I’m not sure I agree with, though it should definitely be noted that better Administration should definitely improve your resource value, as it determines how much wealth you can throw at a problem.

Patron Value might seem irrelevant, and it’s probably not something we should pay too much attention to, but it affects the height or cost of rank, if you’re using Pulling Rank, thus it might be worth looking into. Enemy value is less useful, but interesting for opponents, and Ally and Dependent Value might be interesting if we want to create a “typical attache.”

Social Attributes

Type: the sort of organization it is. We’ll probably have a few standard ones. Most political powers (like a lord) needs an Enforcement organization to enforce his will on the people, a Government organization to handle the minutia of day-to-day administration, Investigative to uncover the secrets of their enemies, and Military to protect sovereignty and to conquer rivals. Given the themes of the setting, we might see Aid, Criminal, Fraternal, Religious, Research, Secret and Teaching organizations as well.

Control Rating determines how much power the leader has over the organization, and how much power the organization has over its members.

Loyalty determines, when combined with CR, how likely a member of that organization is to betray the organization (or its master).

Rank determines how many levels of rank the organization has and what costs those have. This requires us diving into Pulling Rank or Social Engineering to suss out, but for now, I’d just using 5/rank and the Arithmetic of Rank. If we do that, and the masters of our organizations are Rank 8, then they have 200,000 members under their control. If we go up to rank 10, our organizations have up to five million under their control. If we go with Social Engineering’s “alternate rank costs,” then we expect to have Nominal Heierarchial Position with Title, Chain of Command, Typical Resources, lacks Uniqueness (the players won’t have the only army in the world) and has Legitimacy for 5 points/level.

Income Range determines what levels the individual members might expect to have.

Reputation represents how society sees the organization, which reflects on members of the organization. The easiest way to handle this is to apply organizational reputation directly to the players, as they’ll represent the organization in its entirety, though they might have their own reputation (“No, I mean, I love the Church of the Remnants, they do such good work! I’m just saying Bob as the Robopope… I don’t like him”)


Notes seems something we can ignore, and several points, like distinctive activities and membership requirements are more fluff than crunch, and thus while important, not important yet. “Likely self-imposed member traits” and “Unusual demographic aspects” will tie directly into ideology, relationships with other organizations will generally be the house to whom you belong, and specific technologies of interest ties into the infrastructure available to an organization.

Organizations in Play

This deals with three points: facing an organization, starting an organization, and running an organization. Given that our heroes will be running traditional organizations rather than spinning up cabals and conspiracies, I’ll skip starting an organization.

Facing an Organization

Wealth and Resource Value gives us a rubber-meets-the-road of what Wealth and Resource value does for you, mainly in the form of security.

Contact Skills determines what it’s like to face down a specific member of the organization.

Control Rating and Loyalty determines how likely someone is to betray the organization.

Reaction Time: alright, let’s dive into this one a little. While I’d be surprised if we used it straight, it strikes me that this is rather useful for determining the “initiative” of an organization and how well it deals with strange situations. If we take Rank 10 as our starting point, at TL 10, we get +4 as a base.

Incompetent organizations have +6

Semi-Competent organizations have +5

Competent organizations have +4

Skillful organizations have +3

Elite organizations have +2.

This gives us an average response time of between 1 day (elite) and 5 days (Incompetent). If the person making the demand is the PC, then we take -5 off (the lord himself would probably take off -6!). Doing something like asking for readily available information as the master of your elite organization would take 15 minutes to get that info. On the other hand, you were the master of an incompetent, hidebound organization making a very unusual request, it’ll take 10 days to fulfill the request.

Two things leap out at me about this. The first is that I can’t imagine these times mattering in the scale of our game, not to the point where I’d want to stop and look up what those reaction times actually were. The second is the idea of a “Versatile” or “Hidebound” organization. B&C covers Hidebound on page 7, and it represents a rigid internal culture. Such an organization that resists change or unusual requests (-2), as well as evidently increasing reaction time on unusual requests, but granting a +2 to making requests “through proper channels.” In a sense, this represents a streamlined organization. Versatile isn’t addressed. I expect it would add +1 to making unuusal requests (off-setting some penalties) and it would react more dynamically, granting a bonus to reaction times on unusual requests.

Running an Organization

A note on how characters interact with organizations: they may “take extra time” to gain a bonus on their rolls, but this also involves additional cost: x2 time has x2 cost, etc. All actions take 1 month standard (or, better said, you can attempt one per month)

Who’s in Charge Here: This just states that the PCs will make the relevant “running the organization” rolls, of course.

The Limits of Power: this creates an interesting interplay between loyalty and control rating. If the PCs do something the rank and file of the organization find objectionable, this triggers a loyalty roll (with a bonus equal to half the CR) and failure means this information gets out and “the authorities are notified.” Well, the latter is important if a player is attempting to betray the lord, but I suspect that will be unlikely (I suspect this won’t be a cutthroat game, so if the players, as a whole, decide to off their boss, I expect he’ll be gone soon enough). Information getting out, though, that’s dangerous, because it means rivals will realize what the PCs are up to, and might use it to exploit the anger the organization feels at the player characters.

This emphasizes that the leader himself has limitations placed upon him by his organization. Master and servant serve to check one another, so however the players design their organization shapes how they have to play with their organization. More on this in Ideology.

Change Reputation: this is a basic propaganda campaign.

Change Traits: This allows the organization to improve contact skills, gain new traits, etc. For a rank 10 (2 million) organization of average wealth, this comes to about $1 billion per character point. This takes one month, and it requires an Administration roll. Assuming that we have planets of about 2 billion people, and our organizations are about 2 million strong, this is at no penalty.

Embezzlement: You can steal from your own organization! This also requires Administration, but triggers Loyalty rolls. It can be done once a month.

Improve Moral: This is a basic propaganda campaign against your own organization. Assuming a 2-million strong organization of average TL 10 people, it runs $10mil and grants +1 loyalty for 1d/2 months.

I want to pause here and point out how initial loyalty works: It’s based on a reaction modifier roll against the leader, using half of his reaction modifiers., with a “bonus” equal to (1-CR). Thus, a handsome (+2) Charismatic (+4) leader of a low-control organization (CR 0) averages Good (+1) loyalty, but gets no bonus from his control rating with loyalty rolls (he holds his organization together with personal magnetism). An unattractive and callous (-2) leader of a CR 6 organization averages Bad (-5) loyalty, but has a +6 to keep people in line!

Increase Resources: This can improve the assets available to an organization for a single month. This requires a Finance roll, but a failure reduces the resources of the organization and a critical failure means the reduced assets lasts for months.

Recruit Members: In principle, this is just an Administration roll with a cost of $5000 per member you want to recruit (modified by wealth, of course, or any additional skills/points the organization has).

Thoughts on Running Organizations

Does any of this look familiar? We have a population of members and their aggregate wealth, plus their physical capital. We have control ratings and loyalty levels. This contains many of the same ingredients as City Stats do. This makes sense, because a city is itself made up of organizations, but clearly there are similarities in what political power actually means. At its heart, we’re discussing large, powerful organizations and who runs them. This means that what works for managing a city should also work for managing an organization. This means that our masters of organizations need city-management skills because both skills ultimately do the same thing.

The standard skills look familiar too:

Administration for general management

Propaganda for shaping how people see your organization

Finance for improving assets and resources.

The other thing Boardroom and Curia focuses on is what a typical member of your organization might look like. This will be much more interesting as we get into ideology. In fact, as I look more deeply into this, the more clear it is to me that we’re zooming from large scale to small. City stats gives us an idea of what the whole House looks like, Boardroom and Curia shows us what each individual organization looks like, and ideology will dive into why this person serves that organization and how he feels about it.

Organizations as Tools

So, what can an organization do for you? It’s got lots of assets but… so what? What does it matter from a player’s perspective? Why does he want the biggest and baddest organization? At the end of the day, what matters is not the organization itself, but how you can use it to achieve your objectives. After all, if you need to defeat your enemies and you can do that on your own, you don’t need an organization at all! Or, if you need to get elected and your organization is useless for that, then why are you spending all of this time and energy on the organization in the first place? An organization needs to advance the agenda of its master, otherwise its just a fancy debate club that hangs as a huge, administrative burden around the neck of its master.W

Fortunately, we already have two sources that we can draw on. The first is Pulling Rank, which gives us an idea of what an organization can do for someone, but is written from the perspective of people mostly tangentially associated with their organization, at lower levels, and who want to see an immediate benefit. That is, Pulling Rank is mostly for the detective whose gameplay isn’t really about day-to-day police administration and more about solving crimes, and he wants to know why it’s better to be a cop than a PI. Answer: he can pull rank. This doesn’t help us with Orphans of the Stars because we are the masters of the organization and we are, in fact, deeply concerned with the day-to-day operations. We are, if you will, the police chief. Do we need to pull rank to order some cop cars to show up somewhere? No. We have Loyalty Checks if we’re pushing our organization too far, and reaction time if we’re making strange requests. Even so, Pulling Rank is useful for giving us an idea of what an organization is broadly capable of.

Mass Combat represents the other, obvious utility of an organization. Can two million soldiers help you advance your agenda? Oh most assuredly! The problem with Mass Combat is that it’s very focused on one thing: kicking tail. What about spying on people? Or making mass arrests? Or building infrastructure? For this, we’re largely on our own.

Organizations and Organizational Tasks

Before we can answer the question of what organizations can do for us, we need to know what organizations generally do. This is little more than a moment’s thought, but writing it all out will help us see the actual impact of organizations. Then it’s just a matter of working out how to handle the specific mechanics.


The blindingly obvious thing to do with an organization is to wage war on ones opponents with them. This, I would argue, is the least of what should happen in Orphans of the Stars, and, in fact, if we did nothing else, this would make Orphan of the Stars an interesting system. Consider the balance between building your infrastructure, building up your army, ensuring their loyalty and discipline, and then waging war upon ones opponent to destroy his facilities and undermine his military. In fact, I would argue, at its core this is what Orphan of the Stars is. So much so, that I would stop here except that there’s more than one way to defeat one’s opponents. If Orphans of the Stars was nothing but a war game, then why have spymasters and propaganda machines? Because we have other ways of taking down our opponents.

Still, when it comes to this, we have the Mass Combat book, replete with units and neat rules ideas; it shouldn’t be very difficult to devise armies, though I’d like to carefully balance one against another to make sure the game plays out well. It’s also important to understand how those forces might move (Why can’t we just pitch our entire army against an enemy?). I’d also want to balance it against what other organizations can do and, we might even begin to see other organizational efforts via the lens of mass combat.


So, in City Stats, we can use wealth to build up defenses or improve the economy or what have you. We simply shift funds in that direction and it simply happens, because we’ve abstracted away the specific details. We can continue that way, but if we’re going to stop and look at organizations, why not stop and look at the organizations that take up the building tasks? After all, we might have contractors who build our research facilities for us (and drama can even turn around that, as the first season of Daredevil turns on corruption within a contracting organization), or our soldiers could build our defenses for us.

How would we treat this? How does this integrate with Boardroom and Curia? For example, do you actually have enough qualified builders to design what you want (It doesn’t matter how many devoutly loyal Fremen you have on your side if you want to build a starship and none of them know how to build a starship), and does quality matter (will an organization with Engineering (Civil) 12 perform just as well as an organization with Engineering (Civil) 21?)

I would treat an organization as a literal tool (in the GURPS sense) for mass construction. That is one cannot do massive projects without a suitable organization. It’s just not possible! And if we treat them as tools, we can apply Equipment Modifiers.

An untrained and/or poorly equipped organization is the equivalent to improvised equipment and applies a -2 (for most skills) or -5 (for technological skills, like Engineering!)

If you have a functional organization with the basic training and equipment necessary to do the job, you have basic equipment and that’s +0.

If you have a skilled and well-equipped organization, you enjoy the benefits of good tools, and you gain a +1 to your rolls.

If you have a highly skilled and very well-equipped organization you enjoy the benefits of fine equipment for a +2 to your roll.

Finally, if you have the most elite organization with the best possible equipment, you have the best equipment possible for your TL and gain +5 to your rolls!

But what determines your organization’s quality level? Wealth? Training? If we use Mass Combat as our basis, it turns out a little of both. Troop quality is measured by both equipment and skill level. We also have access to both in Boardroom and Curia. Quality is contact skill level (B&C 18):

12 is the equivalent to Inferior

15 is average

18 is Good

21 is Elite

Wealth level doesn’t track very well with Mass Combat, so we’ll have to use the guidelines in B&C on page 18. A Rifleman unit has a Raise cost of $60k, and the number of riflemen (10) times the average monthly income of TL 10 ($5000) gives us 1.2x, which is average.

Poorly equipped troops cost $45k, and according to the same ratio, makes them Struggling

Troops with Good equipment cost $90k, and are still Average

Troops with Fine equipment cost $120k and are Comfortable

Troops with Very Fine equipment cost $180k and are Comfortable

So, equipment level and wealth level aren’t that closely related. I would say, then, that:

Contact skill 12 is improvised (-2)

Contact Skill 15 is basic (+0)

Contact Skill 18 is Fine (+1)

Contact Skill 21 is Very Fine (+2)

And that being Struggling or Poor lowers your quality by one level, while being Comfortable improves your quality by one level (making Skill 21 into “Finest” quality).

But how much of your organization do you need to build something? I think the case here is equally clear, at least if we look at Mass Combat, and our hint here is logistical troops. Logistical troops express logistical support in terms of dollars. That is, if you need to spend $12k a month to maintain your riflemen, you need sufficient logistical troops to express $12k a month to your troops. You could make the case for building forces: that is, if you want to spend $1 billion building up a colony on another world, you need Strength $1billion building capacity that has interstellar ability. If we follow the same guidelines that Mass Combat offers, we get a sort of natural flow of ability: It’s easy to express power locally, harder to express it on a remote location on your planet and very hard to express it across space.

This might be more detail than we strictly need, but it offers insights into an interesting Mass Combat/B&C parallel that gives us an idea of how far away we can do things, and how remotely we can express our power.

It’s also a useful model for how we can handle other organizational ideas.


We’ll want organizations who tackle advertisements, or who convince our troops to believe in a particular ideology, etc. How will that work? Why, we can use the Building rules above to handle Propaganda, as your organization is “just a tool” you use to make those specific rolls.

Administration and Finance

What about bureaucrats who do the bean counting and make sure every soldier gets his pay, or the advisers and financiers who work out the plans for your plans to improve a city’s finances? Well, once again, why not use the Building rules above and treat them as tools? Why not indeed.

Law Enforcement

We must express the will of our lord! But how does that look, when rubber meets the road? Well, it looks like cops, of course! And fortunately, we actually have rules for that! Pyramid #3-93, starting on page 4, has Mass Combat in the City, which introduces the “LEO” tag that allows us to treat soldiers as law enforcement. Pulver argues that this is “just” an accounting feature to keep them from being too cheap, but we legitimately have several tasks important for our Law Enforcement organizations. First, we need them to “keep the peace,” so there’s likely a certain number of cops we might want for a given populace, and they need to enforce the law, which means they embody your chosen Control Rating. If you want to raise the Control Rating, you necessarily need more cops! How exactly we handle that, I’m not sure, but my first thought would be to take the Troop Strength of characters with the LEO tag and treat that as like Logistical Strength applied to CR rating changes.

This does mean that law enforcement can double as soldiers in a pinch… but that’s both what you’d expect and historically accurate. In fact, military forces were police forces for a long time, which means that we might be able to use normal military forces as law enforcement officers in a pinch, but likely at some penalty (they’re more likely to shoot first and ask questions later, aren’t very good at figuring out who is responsible for a crime, maintaining ties with people, etc).


This largely breaks down into three parts

Investigation (Finding out what the enemy is doing)

Subversion (Undermining the enemies efforts by infiltrating his organizations)

Sabotage (directly harming his infrastructure)

The obvious tool here would be the Recon tag from Mass Combat, but it has a few problems. First, it doesn’t really give you information so much as give you the ability to ambush your opponent. This is fine for Sabotage, and we can make the case that “Sabotage” missions boil down to very quiet mass combat, with defensive recon forces and LEO forces keeping an eye out for such attempts, and success meaning you’ve destroyed some facility. Mass Combat doesn’t really discuss staying hidden despite suggesting that soldiers like to do just that, but we can treat a victorious recon roll as allowing the force to remain hidden, provided he achieved surprise (after all, if your opponent doesn’t know you’re there, you can simply choose not to attack). Not that, by the rules, this means they need to succeed by 3+.

Subversion is probably best handled as similar to propaganda rules, or attempts to increase Corruption or diminish Loyalty, or attempts to gain access to a traitor (by rolling some skill against the loyalty rating of the organization). I’m not sure what skill this would use (probably not propaganda, unless you’re running around blaring advertisements about how stupid and ugly the enemy lord is), but I lean towards Psychology, based on some suggestions from Social Engineering. Obviously, skills like Brainwashing and Interrogation and Intimidation make a big difference here, but these represent the tools individual agents use, not the tools the spymaster uses to govern them (that is, interrogation is to psychology what guns (rifle) is to tactics or strategy).

For information gathering, Mass Combat offers no good tips, but this blog post by mlangsdorf offers a good starting point.

In short, he melds the research rules of Monster Hunters with the rules for recon contests, though what his system still lacks are reasons to deploy legions of spies at your enemy, which is something I’d have to investigate more thoroughly. The simplest approach might be to have the spy force make their recon contest and, if they’re successful, the margin of success represents raw data they bring back, in the form of prisoners, stories, photos and etc that the intelligence officer can go over to piece together interesting information.

Even so, all of these together mean that we can treat all aspects of espionage as a form of mass combat, resisted by enemy spies (recon) and LEOs. This has the added benefit of, again, allowing us to treat our spies as soldiers in a pinch, which is also a traditional set of affairs.

The Organization Man

So, if players run organizations, they’ll need to use the same sorts of skills that they use in City Management, namely Administration, Finance and Propaganda (but not Politics, which is interesting and something I’ll have to look into more deeply). They’ll also have skills that turn their organizations into useful tools, including Engineering, Strategy, Intelligence Analysis and Propaganda.

Given the close ties we can make with mass combat, I personally recommend expanding that further. Any organization that a player runs should be sufficiently interesting that the player definitely enjoys running that organization. Furthermore, given the close ties between law enforcement, intelligence operations and war, I’d recommend using these as the basis of your organizations, with things like Finance, Propaganda and Building representing subsidiary arms. That way, all characters can engage in “exciting” and “immediate” combative actions (our political equivalent to action scenes), and “careful” and “long-term” actions like adjusting the broader strategic picture (our political equivalent to downtime self-improvement).

That’s not to say that every organization needs to be military, but if you had (as three examples):

A military/combat engineering organization

A criminal organization skilled in finance, subversion and construction.

An organization of assassins, spies and commandos

An organization of paramilitary police enforcers with “inquisitors” who issue propaganda

You hit almost all of the above points in various needs for City Stats, and still allow the players to “send out forces” to do various things.

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