Whenever I read through a splatbook and read something like this:
“The righteous order of the God of light is dedicated to eliminating evil throughout the land. The clerics and paladins of the order travel the roads and seek out the undead, the unrighteous, and those who work in the name of darkness.
The members of this order start at rank…”
I always wonder a bit if the organization being depicted really, actually exists how it is written. In the real world, we hear about corruption cases, embezzling, and failures to match the mission statement from plenty of big corporations, governments, and non-profits or charities. When I read something about an organization, country, or any group made up of multiple people, I wonder if they really do all adhere to the tenets that the setting books put forth for them.
Sure, the writing for an element like that is meant to showcase an idea, rather than an actual, realistic entity, but I like a little bit of realism and grey area in my gaming worlds. And not all writing in games falls to this flaw, there are many examples of writing that gets into the nuances of a group. White Wolf books are just one example and whenever you have a very focused splatbook, details and nuances usually come out.
If you don’t have that space, as a writer, the word limits can often cause you to provide a very brief overview of a group. You focus on the idea the organization holds in the world, but not all of their secrets and details can come out. Their prevailing theme needs to shine brightest. However, as a Game Master you are free to add in as much nitty gritty detail as you want. Usually, it only takes a brief suggestion that the group is more nuanced than the writeup makes it. So, the next time you are presenting an organization or group in your game, think about what elements might vary from the write up. Things like:
- The group of paladins met on the road who shake you down for a tithe for their ‘protection’ and blessing. They aren’t actually corrupt according to the organization, it is just a practice they have to fund their traveling warriors who actually do deal with bigger problems.
- The nature loving druid who cuts deals with a logging company to clear out only specific forest so he can tend the forest over the long haul. (Think of how fires clear out dead brush so new things can grow.)
- The shadowrun megacorp that, on the surface, looks as corrupt as any other, but actually does work to keep the balance and counteract truly shady deals. The runners they fund and stock market deception they engage in is all about keeping things even and preventing it from skewing too far from stability.
- The evil galactic army that is rampaging through the far flung colonies and raiding each and every planet for resources and people. Though they may be categorized as vicious raiders by the authorities, they aren’t bloodthirsty. They are the remnants of a planet destroyed in a war. They are making raids, but they target colonies unlikely to survive. They offer the colonists the chance to join with their fleet, but will steal supplies with force so they can survive until they find a planet that can house them. Though not strictly good, they are fighting for survival in a very primitive way.
- The secret paranormal protection society that hunts down monsters like vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. Though they are working to protect humanity, they are funded by people who want to hold arcane power. None of this is secret amongst the organization. It’s how they are effective, by harnessing the forbidden. They know they mess with dark forces, they know they have the potential to be a bigger threat than the creatures they kill, but they act as a nuclear deterrent in the supernatural world and that is what keeps the peace, not the day to day operations.
- Another take on the paranormal hunting group, individuals who come up against an organization that captures and tortures paranormal entities may consider them to be cruel, but this is how research is done. What harms the new type of monster that is eating people? Silver doesn’t work, the only way to find out is to test on a live subject. The field teams of the group may not want to do business this way, but they understand the necessity of the science team and its extreme measures, since that is what keeps them alive during engagements.
An organizations write up in a splat book might be detailed or scant, but it is always good to remember that few groups are ever as clear and straightforward as they appear to be. We can add in those details ourselves if they aren’t present, we just have to remember to do so.
What nuances have you added to your homebrewed organizations that go against the public image they are known by? What organizations or entities from published books felt too strict and sanitized and what elements of complexity or elements that went against type would you add to them to make them more realistic?