We’re not exactly dealing with Vogons here: (Bureaucracy Part 1)


When starting the post about bureaucracy, I knew I had to check the standard suppository for all knowledge and wisdom on the subject, that wholly remarkable book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Vogons. Vogons are one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious, and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the ravenous Bug-Blatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, lost, found, queried, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighter. On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry to you.

While not nearly as Kafkaesque as what Douglas Adams would have in mind, the officacy and tediousness of bureaucracy is something that exists in the Star Wars universe. And because it’s something that most people in the western world are familiar with, it’s not that difficult to do. It’s also a nice little detail to add to the reality of a game as well as generating some amusing roleplaying

However, as others have said, there is a fine line between a nominal bureaucracy and a painfully detailed one that sends a player running for the hills.  I found out by accident one game session how much of a roadblock one can be when I outlined what a player had to do to purhcase a gun. I thought it was rather funny, but he refused to participate, I don’t think he knows where his towel is.

As the Star Wars Roleplaying Game is the one I am most familiar with, a lot of my examples will come from that but they could be extended to any roleplaying game set in the present day or the future. And perhaps, to some extent, in a fantasy Medieval setting like Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s a little bit harder to set up as you first need literate people focused on the circulation of little white pieces of paper.

To make things easier, a lot of bureaucratic systems are set up already in Star Wars, at least the numbers exit, but I won’t go into detail with those as they are rather easy to look up. There are a few that I have made up myself (and we’ll get to those in the next post) but as a Level 1 GM I haven’t had the chance to go very far with them yet.

Purchasing a Weapon – The Basics

This is an obvious choice as most roleplayers spend half their time doing this (the other half being spent killing everything that moves and most things that don’t). The checks and balances associated with the legal sale and ownership of weapons as well as the various pieces of paper that go with them are very much a product of the modern era.

The fact that licenses and waiting times exist in purchasing weapons in Star Wars may come as some surprise to players used to a more fantasy Medieval setting. It’s really just a modern way of regulating those who can and cannot possess them. In the Middle Ages, these things were a little more primitive if they existed at all. The first restriction was price, as the average income earner (most likely a peasant) could not possibly have enough gold to purchase a sword, much less spend the gold in maintaining it. This explains why so many peasants had polearms, so many began their lives as improvised farm impliments. The second restriction was part of the law of the land, as I recal only noblemen were allowed to carry a sword about, which elimiated women, the clergy, peasants, merchants and tradespeople. And heaven help you if you insisted on leaving your sword on your belt when seeking the hospitality of a lord.

I know I have gotten slightly off the topic here, but my knowledge of medieval history does tend to run away with me and I am not really sure if most DMs would be aware of these. Just remember next time you go shopping in D&D that purchasing a sword is the equivalent of buying a car in todays terms and buying a horse is akin to taking out a mortgage.

As I said before, in  Star Wars much of this has been done for you. The weapons are grouped into varying levels of availability, and dependant on this is the percentage of the price of the weapon needed to purchase the license as well as the number of days waiting a player must do to legally purchase the weapon.

Of course, the alternative for those who are impatient is the black market. This is also dependent on the level of availability. And the black market is also where a lot of the more hard to find weapons can be located. Though I would hesistate to have the players purchasing lightsabers.

Purchasing Weaspons – How it Would Work

I admit my knowledge of his this works in our galaxy is rather limited, possibly due to my own views on the ownership of weapons. It would really be dependant on the GM how much you wish to take this. How many forms the players has to fill out, how many forms of identification they would need and if they’d need to tour various rooms and see different people to get it approved. This may take place in a government building or just in the shop of the weapons dealer.

The actual licenses, even if only as a list, would be a useful tool for the GM to see just what a player is legally allowed to carry (rather useful for law enforcement, which I will get to next time) and I have to say I wish I had done this from the beginning, but it’s a bit too late now.

The level of bureaucracy would be dependant on what planet the players currently happen to be on, as well as if a black market exists there and how extensive it would be. A planet like Alderaan, may be somewhat officious with excellent customer service and would be different from, say, Corellia of Coruscant, both planets which would have a black market which Alderaan would lack. And on planets like Tatooine or Nar Shaddaa, there would be very little or none at all official channels for obtaining weapons, possibly black market dealers and forgers in plentiful supply.

Purchasing a Starship – The Basics

Face it, in Star Wars players are going to want their own starship. Even if we put aside the coolness factor, and the over-compensation for something else factor, the attraction of a player-owned-and-operated starship is the autonomy it gives. Even if the GM can do various funky things about where the ship is going to jump to and what happens when they get there.
The sourcebook Starships of the Galaxy I would recommend as almost essential to playing the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. It also has a good deal to say about acquiring a starship through legitimate and less-than-legitimate channels, much more detailed than with weapons which is understandable as it’s a little more complex. However, unlike with weapons, there are ships that are simply out of reach for players legitimately. You can’t purchase a Star Destroyer for any price, and just try to prize the Millennium Falcon out of Han Solo’s hands without killing him (not recommended either).

Despite these restrictions, there are quite a lot of ships that can be purchased, although getting around the prices (which begin in the 100K credit mark for anything possessing a hyperdrive) can set players back a bit, even if they do have to take on a little “financing”. And, as you can guess, there’s the pieces of paper needed.

Fortunately, Starships of the galaxy outlines this very well. To be a legitimate owner/operator of a starship, a player needs the following documents: a Ship’s Operating License, a Captain’s License, a ship’s registration with the Bureau of Ships and Services and the various licenses licenses needed for any weapons the ship carries. Of course,  these can be forged but they are significantly more difficult to get than with weapons.

Purchasing a Ship – How it Would Work

A good guide for running this would be what is needed to purchase and drive a car. There are a few bureaucratic hoops one must go to when obtaining a license wuch as the tests, forms, identitication and such. Likewise with purchasing a ship and channels of financing that players may go through.

This also extends to the illegal acquirement of ships. Just as cops in this galaxy track stolen cars, the law enforcement tracks stolen ships. If the players are going to make a career of being shipjackers, there’s quite a few things that they need to forge other than various pieces of paper.

There are exceptions

This post went on for longer than I figured it would, and I’m only half-done and have not gone into as nearly as much detail as I would have liked. However, one thing needs to be touched on: the are important exceptions to following this system. Some players, particularly Jedi or those in the military, might not need to go through bureaucratic channels to get equipment and ships, mainly because they don’t own a lot of the things that they used. Players in the military may also requisition stuff that they need.

This is fine, but it can get to be a bit too much of a free ride and should be limited or they’ll be getting everything for free.

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~ by katanageldar on August 26, 2009.

2 Responses to “We’re not exactly dealing with Vogons here: (Bureaucracy Part 1)”

  1. True, it is a difficult balance using bureaucracy as an interesting challenge rather than just a barrier and time waster. But it can be fun now and then.

  2. While bureaucracy is interesting from a theory craft standpoint, I tend to limit actual interactions with one in the game. No one wants to role play going to the DMV, they can do that on Monday.

    Bureaucracy tends to work better as a barrier to force improvisation and black market stuff. What do the players do on a world where blasters and slug throwers are outlawed? They fight their foes dune style, with knives and swords!

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