Dungeon Mastering - Micro Kingdoms

I have recently been thinking a lot about creating a new campaign world and have been inspired by quite a few different sources. One of the ideas I am kicking around is that of micro-kingdoms.

My idea is that there would be many small kingdoms each basically ruled by a stronghold, keep, wizard's tower, temple or the like. While the players go about their adventures there would be many small turf wars, rivalries or outright battles between these factions, their allies and their enemies. Think Game of Thrones but on a much smaller scale.

A large faction would have around 100 to 150 men at arms or troops to call on. A small one might have as few as 25 or 30. I feel that this will allow me to build a campaign world where the political lay of the land is always in flux, with smaller factions grouping together for strength and larger ones always attempting to grow and expand.

One inspiration is a forest with too many trees. All are trying to thrive and get sunlight but sometimes there just isn't enough room. Some wither and die others thrive. This is where player characters come into play in the early game. They become the foresters so to speak, either trimming down and paring large trees or destroying small ones, either way they change the landscape of the forest.

By having smaller kingdoms characters are able to put their stamp on the world as a whole in a large way. Even a large kingdom that loses 30 of 150 men at arms will be highly impacted. They now are forced to rebuild and regroup while others may fill that power void. The landscape will change and the players are the fulcrum throughout their entire careers.

Another advantage comes in the late game when characters may be building strongholds and trying to forge territories of their own. Do they gain these through force, subterfuge or by way of reward for loyalty and service? These are all viable options in this sort of setting. This also gives all alignment types and play styles a viable way to gain power. Whether they decide to be an assassin or a paladin there are large gains to be had. Would they prefer to rule behind the scenes through a figurehead or sit on a throne themselves? Anything seems possible in this sort of setting.

To me this seems like the ultimate in sandbox play. Many times kingdoms and worlds are static and merely a story that the DM has already written. My goal is to design a place that makes players feel like their actions matter in huge ways. I want them to be those few touched by fate. Destinies, lives and kingdoms rise or fall, live or perish, and are dependent for the most part on their actions or perhaps even their inaction. Well, I think I have a lot of work to do...




  1. This is also the direction that I have been heading. I was conceiving of my strongholds as small city-states often ruled or assisted by petty gods, like the ancient near east.

    Have you read book 3 of OD&D, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures? That is more or less the setting assumption there as well. It suggests using the Outdoor Survival map for the wilderness and treating things like ponds as strongholds. It also has cool tables for generating the stronghold ruler and their soldiers.

    I think it also fits source literature like The Dying Earth very well. There were no sprawling kingdoms or empires there.

    1. I haven't read book three in years. I have to drag it out and have a look at those tables. I was actually wondering about that very thing. I like to use tables to help me along with the creative process.

  2. Strongly recommend you have a 'reason' (good or otherwise) why some of these petty kingdoms haven't teamed-up and gotten big yet. Your PCs will eventually wonder and ask!

    1. Perhaps geography is good enough? Consider the ancient Greek city states, and even Italy up until the nineteenth century. You could also have jealous gods who knock down any mortal ruler that gets too uppity.

    2. Timescales. Apart from the presumption of many fantasy settings that political, social, and economic thought is as slow to change as the technology level, at any point in our history we could ask why political entities X, Y and Z haven't yet joined together into something bigger. Our history also shows us that empires and unions are perfectly capable of dividing into a number of smaller independent entities. Why haven't these petty kingdoms joined together? An easy answer is - they haven't yet. Perhaps YOU (the PC) will be the 'Garibaldi'.

  3. I like this idea a lot. It reminds me of the South Kingdom in The Face in the Frost:

    "If you looked at a map of the South made in Prospero's time, you would think it was a badly done and rather fussy abstract painting, or the palette of a demented artist. You would see blotches within splotches within wavy circles; you would see shapes like ladyfingers, like stars, like dumbbells, and like creeping dry rot. All this was the fault of Godwin I (Longbeard), the first King of All the South, and the last to hold any real power. He divided up the kingdom among his sons, and they did likewise, and so on. Primogeniture was never established, so eventually the south became an indescribable conglomeration of duchies, earldoms, free cities, minor kingdoms, independent bishoprics, and counties. These little worlds were often the size of small farms..."

  4. I'll write many more words for it, but I've got a great start on the first draft.

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