Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Orphans of the Stars: Organizational Gameplay

We know what the overall themes of gameplay are now, but we need to know what the PCs, themselves, do with it.  The ruling noble might decree that the planet is to wage war upon a rival while also changing the ideology of the people, but what organizations wage war? Who changes the ideology of the people?  And how and when do the PCs improve their organizations?  How does all of this translate into, you know, something fun like an action scene or a dramatic seduction or a cunning infiltration?

Eventually, less of this material made it into the final draft because it turned out to be more complicated than necessary, but I present the whole thing for your consideration.

Organizational Game Design

In the previous article, I established the core gameplay of our political system at its highest level: the character’s lord sets agendas for a year, and the players attempt to support that agenda with their organization, and can receive profits as a result. This gameplay occurs on a month-by-month basis.

Next, I want to climb down a step in our fractal and take a look at what supporting an agenda with an organization looks like, and the simple answer is this: Once a month, players can set the agenda for their organization, and then attempt to support it with personal action. That is, gameplay works exactly like it does for high-level play, only on a more immediate time-scale.

So what do players do with their organizations?

They set a monthly agenda for them, just as lord sets a yearly agenda for his world

They use their organizations as tools to advance the lord’s overall agenda

They se their organizations as weapons to stall the agendas of others.

Organizational Agendas

So, just as a lord sets the agenda for his domain, so too should a player be allowed to set an agenda for his organization. But we have a couple of differences here. First, this belongs to the player, therefore, there’s no “loss of control” in the sense of the player being unable to control his organization. A player who does not want to fail his organizational rolls can simply invest more character points into the appropriate skills!

However, just a with lordly agendas, I suggest we use a similar model for gameplay at this level:

We can gain a +1 bonus to an agenda by performing some immediate action to support it

Our reforms almost always succeed, but failure might create a crisis (“Fail forward”)

We can send out subordinates to assist us.


The first two are relatively self-explanatory, but let me dive deeper into the third option. A lord sets an agenda and then sends his minions out to do his bidding. But those minions, the players, themselves rule organizations, therefore, they do the same thing: they set an agenda and then send their minions out to do their bidding! Now, we can treat this generically, and we should definitely do that: If you want your soldiers to do something they do that, en masse. We don’t need to stop and think about individual personalities in that bunch. That said, a commander will have direct subordinates: your armies may seem a mass, but you don’t command your armies, you command your colonels, and they command their subordinates, and so on. That’s how organizations actually work.

Thus, I propose that every player get 2-3 detailed characters that assist them. We detail them to a degree somewhere between allies and contacts. That is, they have a few pertinent skills set to some standard levels based on the organization’s training level (that is, if your standard contacts are skill 12, so are your officers! If your standard contacts are skill 21, so are your officers!) and a few traits that give them specific personality (disadvantages based on the culture of the organization, plus their own particular talents and foibles).

These represent the faces of the organization beneath the PC. The player might know that he has an army of mixed Fremen and Space Knights, but having an actual Fremen with an actual name and actual goals and agendas makes the Fremen side of his organization more concrete and specific. It also gives the player someone he can argue with, someone whose betrayal feels more personal, and someone whose loss feels tragic.

They also represent tools in themselves. The player character can dispatch them to serve him and gain a +1. Given that sending NPCs off to have amazing adventures might detract a little from the centrality of the players, so I recommend that you can send off your NPCs to support no more than 1 agenda; whereupon the player rolls their subordinate’s pertinent contact skill as a complementary skill for their own roll to advance their agenda. That’s it! A subordinate represents a useful way to improve your agendas (making them good tools for administrating your organization) and people you can foist the less interesting elements onto (“Here, subordinate, do this paperwork while I race off to assassinate my enemies!”)

Example Agendas

The agendas for improving your organization should be exactly the agendas given in Boardroom And Curia. In our previous step, we needed to work out why this mattered to the players, but here we know exactly why it does. A player wants to improve, say, his organization’s resources so that his organization as more resources. There’s no need to make it more complicated than that!

That said, we do need to integrate it with our ideology rules and our resource rules. In addition to improving wealth, we can also use use the same rules to gain access to specific, high-value resources. It might also be worthwhile to look into improving specific aspects of resources (constructing buildings and such), but I’m leery of that, as I’d rather handle that on the higher level (build improvements on the City Stat level, then exploit them with organizations). For recruiting members, we need to choose from which demographics we recruit, and it would be worthwhile to note which demographics we have in our organization and what their cultures are, just like planets have detailed demographics. When we apply traits to our groups, we can also apply ideological precepts as we work to change the culture of our organization.

Supporting Overarching Agendas

As an organizational agenda, you can send your organization out to act on the behalf of the lord, fulfilling his needs and granting him a bonus to his final roll. But what precisely can organizations do? Well, in my Boardroom and Curia post, I offered 6 things:





Law Enforcement


Naturally, an organization only has so many resources, the lord will need to decide where to send what resources. The final difficulty (for things other than straight-up mass combat) should be based on how many resources are applied to a job vs how many are necessary. If we take the required resources and compare them to the resources applied and use the ratio table from Mass Combat, we might get a good idea of the bonuses and penalties to a PC’s final roll.

Each organizational approach should have their own themes and guidelines. Briefly: Military and Espionage organizations attack other agendas; Law Enforcement protects the land, mitigates crises, and enforces the will of the master; Construction organizations build improvements and represent industrial capacity (they build everything!); Propaganda organizations both persuade and understand the people (they also act as something of an espionage group, though less aggressively); Administration and Finance organizations handle the paperwork, bureaucracy and management of larger actions, and sort of represent the legal side of law enforcement. Construction, Administration and Propaganda will generally directly impact agendas the most.

Population and Search Modifiers

Improving your population requires a propaganda campaign, so propaganda organizations can do research to assist the lord in how best to tailor his message, or they can run carefully targeted propaganda campaigns of their own. New populations explicitly need housing (City Management has specific rules). Construction can either add a bonus, or be seen as a prerequisite for improving population. New immigrants need paperwork, visas and the like; Administrative organizations can begin setting up legal frameworks for the new influx of people, including discussing the new budgets for welfare, the logistics of their entry, and what their legal status will be.


Construction is probably best seen building improvements, but we can also treat it as industrial capacity. This means that we focus on building sellable products, increasing general production (“Everyone works overtime!”), or temporarily employing more people.

Propaganda can shift how people spend; it might encourage them to save, or to invest in particular things that the lord believes will boost the economy and so on.

However, improving Wealth is where administration and finance really shines. They can reduce budgetary excess, investigate markets and secure beneficial deals.

Appearance, Hygiene and Defense

Here, Construction comes to the fore. It literally builds the improvements! An improvement is much more than a single building, but a whole network of buildings and infrastructure. By directly building a portion of this, the construction organization can add a +1 to the overall roll.

Administration matters a great deal here too. The new infrastructure needs to be zoned and planned and new laws need to be put into place to secure them (especially for Hygiene!). Construction contracts also need to be assigned, if construction organizations can’t handle the entire load.

Military organizations can contribute to the construction of defense, either by directly manning said defenses, or by offering their advice on the tactical usefulness of a particular defense.

Literacy and Search Modifiers

The education of a people is handled, according to City Management, by an Administration roll, so an Administration organization can directly do their part by tackling some aspect of the overall program. They can hire teachers, arrange for lessons, set up education funds, etc.

Propaganda campaigns can also interest people in education and specific ideas. For example, if you want to push a particular form of combat training, a propaganda organization can disparange “namby-pamby” pacifism and show endless programs about how “totally cool” a particular combat system is, encouraging impressionable youths everywhere to sign up and learn to become badasses!

Any organization that already has the pertinent traits can contribute by sending its own skilled members out at advisors and instructors.

Control Rating and Corruption

Passing laws represents a central, core activity of an Administrative organization. They can draft the new laws, advocate them in the local legislative body, ensure that bureaucratic organs exist to handle the new legislation and so on.

Propaganda can push the people to accept the new law, or even to persuade them that it was their idea in the first place. This makes public acceptance of the law much easier.

Law enforcement will have to actually enact the law. They’ll need to audit affected organizations, put more patrols out to ensure that nobody is violating it, and so on. Ultimately, they ensure that corruption stays down. Removing corruption by rounding up known criminals is definitely the sort of thing they do. Consider having a “Mass Combat” scenario where law enforcement tackles a specific gang!


Loyalty comes down to belief and legitimacy, which a propaganda organization can absolutely support. They can check the pulse of the population and then drum up campaigns and photo-ops that make dear leader seem heroic and worth supporting.

Espionage and Law Enforcement can also work together on this. Espionage can spy on the population to check to see if they can find any sedition and, if they do, inform Law Enforcement, who can move to arrest them. Again, this can be a Mass Combat scenario where the organization cracks down on “terrorists” or “seditionists.”

Supporting your Organization

So, you’ve chosen your agendas, whether you’re trying to improve it, or you’re trying to advance the agenda of your master. What can you do to personally support your organization? The point here is to have an adventure. Everything from a lordly agenda to an organizational agenda is necessarily abstract. We are, in effect, playing a board game, which is fine, but ultimately, it should translate into something personal, something the player deals with directly. The point of a roleplaying game is that we might be playing a wargame, but we play it from the perspective of a single individual. How do these agendas impact the player character directly?

We can look at this from one of to angles. We can, first of all, ask what the players do? This is a question best answered by the “Orphans of the Stars Characters as Action Heroes” portion of the design phase, which is out of the scope of this document. But we can also look at what organizations are doing, and for that, we can look at our organizational types.


Mass Combat already has plenty of places for individual action, but if we zoom even closer, the obvious thing that a player character can do is kill bad guys and take their stuff! If the PC has instituted an agenda attacking an opponent (more on that later), he can directly participate via the sort of fight scenes that we love out of action scenarios. He can take the fight to the enemy, defeat key points, take on harrowing and dangerous missions behind enemy lines, and so on.

While veering into administrative and propaganda concerns, military organizations also constantly struggle with morale and logistical problems. The player can break up fights, arrange for games/entertainment, and make impassioned speeches to bolster his troops.

If our subordinates do this, the key skill is either Tactics (if leading their own raid), or a pertinent combat skill (if fighting directly). They (or the PC himself) can use Strategy to come up with a perfect battle plan, Administration for logistical concerns, and Leadership for handling morale.


Boring! Who wants to build things all day long? Oh, gadgeteers of course! The typical heroic action supporting construction organization should draw inspiration from heroic inventors like Tony Stark. Let the character conceive of an invention, search for unique parts of resources necessary for it, design the prototype, test it (at great personal risk!) and then release the prototype to assist his organization.

Maintaining machinery also matters. If something, say, were to suddenly break down, our hero could fly to the rescue, hunting down some obscure part and then wading into a dangerous part of the machinery to dramatically fix it just in the nick of time!

More mundane support might come from design work (Engineering), handling the logistics of construction (Administration), or keeping machinery in repair (Mechanics). Subordinates could also do this.


Propaganda adventures tend to depend on two things: information and persuasion. The first requires investigation: How do people feel about things? What’s the man-on-the-street worried about? What’s really going on here? Propaganda-assisting PCs get a chance to listen to people, to hunt into the heart of a problem and come back with interesting answers.

But more importantly, they persuade people, and they can do this with key individuals rather than trying to persuade the masses. The character might debate a hardliner, or find a troubled character on the fence and talk him down to his own ideology. Scenes like this can represent a single moment in a larger picture. If, for example, the character’s organization is trying to promote tolerance between two demographics, the player character might stumble across a fight between two members of that demographic, break it up, shout about how they’re tearing this society apart, and then more quietly persuade them of the folly of their ways. This certainly won’t change the minds of everyone, but it represents a single moment in a larger movement, much like a single fight scene represents a moment in a war. That’s definitely worth +1!

This sort of approach should definitely apply when trying to boost the loyalty of your own organization, or recruiting new members.

More mundane support might come from creating beautiful works (Artist), doing some political research (Sociology or Expert Skill (Political Science), giving a series of speeches (Public Speaking), writing op-eds or show scripts (Writing). Subordinates could also do this.


Heroic paperwork is out of the question, but not politics. A great deal of administration involves talking people into acting on your behalf, whether its gaining the support of an influential power-broker, pushing for change against a recalcitrant bureaucrat, or arguing your stance before a judge. Social engineering discusses these sorts of scenes in greater detail, but the heart is always the same: Identify a key power-broker and talk them into joining your side. Thus, administration “action scenes” involve socializing. You need to know what your target wants, you need to use that to leverage his compliance, and you need the social graces to pull it off. These sorts of scenes always involve things like wine, women, parties, and possibly even scandal and blackmail.

More mundane support might come from drafting or reviewing specific laws (Law), analyzing budgets (Accounting) or what’s hot on the marker (Finance, Market Analysis, Current Affairs). Palling around with politicians might be Politic or Savoir-Faire, while arguing with Bureaucrats is Administration. Subordinates could also do this.

Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement action scenes write themselves: perps need to be arrested, gangs need to be fought, crimes need to be solved. Any one of these things can serve as a benefit for an overall agenda cleaning out corruption or hunting down those who would subvert the local order.

More mundane support might come from basic detective work (Criminology), making sure your organization stays within the bounds of the law (Law) and knowing how to motivate your fellow officers (Leadership, Savoir-Faire (Police)). Knowing the streets (Current Affairs or Streetwise) doesn’t hurt. Subordinates can also do this.


Like military and law enforcement scenes, these are the bread and butter of action scenarios. The players can infiltrate enemy organizations, ferret out traitors, moles and conspiracies and then defeat them, or they can uncover dangerous plots and rush to protect the targets of those plots from assassionation.

More mundane support might come from intelligence Analysis (Intelligence Analysis), forensic accounting (Accounting), pestering the man on the street (Streetwise) or other contacts, and simply being in the know (Area Knowledge, Current Affairs) Subordinates can also do this.

Organizational Crisis

So an agenda fails, but the PC really wants it to succeed. We could include the same rules for “failing forward” with an organization that we do for larger political gameplay. This offers us a few interesting possibilities.

The first is that your action might interfere with some other larger agenda. That is, if you fail your roll, your agenda might succeed, but only by applying a penalty to one of the lord’s higher agendas. Thus, you can unintentionally sabotage your master’s plans for the private benefit of your organization. This works best when you set your organization’s advancement against your lords’ desires, but it could also represent harming one of your lord’s agendas while helping another.

The second possibility is that we harm the organization in some meaningful way. Rather than fuss with small-scale stuff like we did last time, we can simply apply a penalty directly: Your organization loses loyalty, or loses wealth, or loses members, etc. This works best when supporting your masters’ agendas, as you run your organization into the ground to make sure he gets what he wants.

Finally, a crisis could affect you personally. Perhaps a subordinate revolts against you, trying to depose you. Perhaps you gain a negative reputation. Perhaps you need to cover up some wrong-doing and gain a Secret. This represents the leader suffering for the sake of his organization.

These create interesting choices, where the player needs to weight his master’s agenda and the overall health of the world, or even his own health, against the needs of his organization. How much do you want to succeed?

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