(Or any leader for that matter)

In an organisation/kingdom/etc where a single PC is running a realm and has delegated a lot of authority to various minions (High Priest, Marshall, Enforcer, Spymaster, Treasurer, etc) how can you keep them busy and make things fun?

This game is being run via email so dungeon crawling, combats and suchlike are basically out; there is some investigation and so on, but it's a very slow affair. This game is focused almost entirely on realm and people management. I'm looking for things to keep the "King" busy in his position of authority in a gaming context so that he doesn't feel like since he's delegated everything to minions and has nothing to do except take up wood carving.


  • What sort of day-to-day things does a ruler have to deal with that stops them from just throwing constant parties? I'd think that a ruler generally is fighting off people with a stick to get time to themselves, what sort of things are the minions/delegates troubling the King with?
  • What campaign-level decisions and factors provide story at this level of gaming?
  • What sort of people issues come up for people in charge of everything when they've delegated authority?
  • Are there any good resources for generating entirely management based stories?

I hope those all clarify what I'm looking for here; I've not run much of this sort of campaign before and although Kingmaker (that I'm using to manage stuff) provides a good toolkit for running and building stuff it still doesn't abstract from not going out to beat up the occasional pack of trolls. About the best thing in it for this is the events, but these are generally isolated once-a-month affairs.


8 Answers 8


Some quick searches show me that the internet is full of historical accounts, movies, TV-shows, and stories about kings, rulers, and other such nobility and what they do during their day. I am sure you are aware of this as well, so I understand that you want an answer in the context of a role playing game.

The King can do whatever he wants

Regardless of what is expected of him the character can always decide he just wants to go riding through the woods, or go down to the tavern and get drunk, or take up pottery lessons. But that is not something new in role playing games, it's just important to make a note of it. Moving onto...

Everyone wants to meet the King

As a ruler, everyone will want to meet with you, talk to you, and get your feedback, authorization, or approval. From commoners seeking an audience, merchants seeking trade, foreign dignitaries, and your own councilmen. This takes up time, and your day is probably full of scheduled meetings with important people, while those below you take care of the less important people. Which leads to...

You need to lead

Being a leader means you actually need to do some leading. This can be as simple as just writing decrees from your bed, or going to council meetings and discussing with your council on the affairs of the kingdom. It's all fine that you have allocated and delegated most of your power down to various minions - but you need to keep guiding them. They will have daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reports for you. You can further direct your kingdom by getting updates on the various aspects within your kingdom - and these meetings with your minions are how you get that knowledge. You might want to change policies, or even change the minion taking care of the policy. But that is also part of...


What good is a king without some secrets? whether its your spies, your mistress, or even your spies mistress - there are some things that a King has to deal with that shouldn't be made public knowledge, hiding these things requires finesse! You need to be able to slip away from people, arrange private meetings, send secret letters, and all this with your schedule full, and people everywhere looking for you. So naturally...

You need to have fun!

What good is being a king when you can't hold a royal ball? Or a feast? Or a tournament? Yes most of the work is done by someone else - but you are the vision behind it. You decide what and where and who, and someone else will build it and manage it. But you need to make sure that you have enough money, which leads to...

You're on a budget!

You are the King yes.. and you are the one in charge.. but only as long as everyone is in line... which usually requires money. Money that you collect through taxes, trade, tithes, and adventures. But you also spend this money - and it is your job to either balance this spending or have someone else do it. And if that doesn't work out for you, you might need to ask for help...

Dealing with other Kings

You will need to send emissaries, or even travel yourself. You will be trading, warring, politicking, marrying children to each other and getting into lots of untold naughtiness. That is a fact.

So if you want to know what a King does with his time? I answer you - What time??

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    \$\begingroup\$ Love how the answer effortlessly cascades through many facets of being a king. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wonder what the king is doing tonight from Camelot \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 23:44
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, not everything your underlings do is desired, even if they don't act directly against you. Corruption is important to combat for a ruler at all times. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szandor
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 9:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer; this is the sort of thing I was looking for! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I love the ending. What time indeed. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 13:28

First and Foremost the King needs to remain king...

As you note you could as king effectively delegate ALL of your responsibilities away leaving you endless leisure time. Beyond the moral or philosophical issues with that scenario there is the very real political and personal danger this engenders. If everyone sees the kingdom running swell without the king's aid then why do they need the king? Also, by giving your advisers and lieutenants your power and authority you are essentially asking for a knife in the back or poison in the cup. The king needs to be active and seen to be active in the affairs of the realm if only to keep up appearances and the belief in the importance and necessity of the king. There should be assassination attempts by those in a position to gain from the king's death. Nobles not in line to inherit directly from the king's demise could form rebel factions to usurp the throne if they become too dissatisfied with the King's rule.

The king needs to be abreast of events so he can make informed decisions...

If the king isn't involved in the day to day aspects of the kingdom and allows himself to be thoroughly removed by wholly relying on his advisers, then when the time comes to make a decision that only someone with his authority can make (stay of execution, declaration of war, arranging a marriage between the King's offspring and another King's) they will be completely in the dark. By relying on the word of the advisers the King is opening himself up to bald manipulation (See: House of Cards). The king should regularly be asked to make policy and diplomatic choices, that should be both opaque and transparent and have long term effects.

Being King is a lot more interesting when you are active...

Idleness is a slow death. Kings have a unique place with unique powers that render them able to make decidedly interesting choices as the game/story progresses. The player should look forward to influencing unfolding events as each crisis arises and long-term policy decisions begin to be felt. Bribing your vassals with land, titles, and money to allow you to pass a new law that institutes a large levy (feudal version of the draft/conscription) could suddenly put the King in the position to throw his weight around diplomatically or declare war to regain de jure titles. The possibilities and complications are endless.

Finally buy/look into Crusader Kings II—the gameplay is a very good approximation of life for nobles in the middle ages (with flourishes that can be put down to artistic/gameplay design choice options).

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I got to the second-last paragraph and was thinking "Somebody's been playing CKII...!" and then I read the last sentence. :) It is an excellent nobility decision-making simulator. "Mo' land, mo' problems." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Right, and Honestly you could just watch the promo trailers/ads for the CKII each featuring on a deadly sin and it would totally sum up both my post and the game as well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or the "You are the King of Castille…" trailer. That one's also an excellent snapshot of the chaos of being an independent ruler. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ And now I have to buy CK2, damn you! +1 Thanks for the suggestions! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 16:46

He holds the highest ranking job of the feudal system, which means it is his responsibility to protect his entire kingdom - he answers to no one, but should he fail to protect his land, he could face anything from a revolution to complete obliteration by another king.

Which means, the two biggest things that preoccupy a King's time are:

  1. His People
  2. Other Kings

His People

"His People" is an easy one - he has to order his lords to collect taxes and quell rebellion, while making sure everyone in his land is well-fed and productive. He can meet with a council, usually of Lords and Ladies, to discuss trade agreements, land disputes, large construction projects like roads and fortresses, and preventing them from jumping ship and joining with other Kings.

Given the demands that each individual Lord can have, and the fact that each Lord has an entourage of Knights that must be Knighted by the King, and the tendency for Lords/Barons/What-Have-You to be snobbish jerks, this alone can keep the King very busy.

This can all depend upon the specific setting you're using though, as some Kings hold direct authority over all their land, and don't answer to Lords at all. Or may employ mayors (somehow meshing feudalism with democracy). The important thing, though, is that the King is responsible for making sure the people in charge of everything else keep his Kingdom running without descending into anarchy.

Other Kings

Other Kings are a bit more tricky. A King can only rule so much land (unless your world is ruled by a single all-powerful King), and at some point he has to make some acknowledgement of other Kings surrounding him.

There are a number of ways that Other Kings can take up the King's time – They can negotiate trade agreements to better/worsen their economic position, they can declare war on the Kingdom and tax the king's military resources, they can throw their daughters at the King to get one of his Lords (or Ladies) to marry her and expand their own power, or they can just hold fancy royal balls where fragile footwear is all the rage. While the King doesn't have to deal with all of these issues directly, he does have to set policy for how to deal with the issues, and may occasionally be forced to meet with other Kings, or envoys from the King, or the other Kings' various annoying sons/daughters, or the other Kings' various annoying assassins or spies.

Which brings me to a third thing that occupies a King's time, but that really occupies everyone's time when they aren't an adventurer.

The King's Family

Unless the King is some kind of swinging King Bachelor (a possibility!), he likely has a wife, sons, daughters, and various cousins who all want part of his attention/power/crown. And like any father, the King has to deal with all of them. He has to find some way to occupy the time for his sons and daughters (does he send them off to war? Does he try to get them married? Does he let them while away their time in the castle and grow destitute? To say nothing of the Dragons that keep trying to kidnap them). If he is a bachelor, there's likely a slew of eligible young bachelorettes that are vying for his attention, which would also occupy a King's time.

That all being said... there is a fourth thing that is even less mentioned than the third thing.

Whatever He Damn Well Pleases

While all of the above are things he should be doing, as his responsibilities, the King is free beyond any other member of his class system to do anything else he wants in his spare time. He can go hunting in the forests, gallivant off with adventurers, declare war on his neighbors, marry another king's daughter, marry his own daughters (ew), study arcane magic, study combat tactics, raise taxes, lower taxes, paint a portrait, have a portrait painted of himself, play the piano, dance with his wife, dance with his husband, dance with his daughter (aww?), learn to cook his own meals, fish for trout, anything he wants to do he can do, and there's very little anyone can do to stop him.

...Unless there are people who could stop him, like a council who could get him dethroned, or an assassin who could spoil his good time, or a dragon who could capture him while he's on the hunt, or a rival king who doesn't take too kindly to him marrying his daughter, or a daughter who doesn't take too kindly to incest, et cetera.

In short, the King can do anything he wants... but has to face the consequences of anything he does, and has the weight of the world on his shoulders at all times.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ A note on mayors: a mayor is just a lord whose "land" is a city instead of a fief. The title may be elected, appointed, inherited, or anything else, and don't necessarily equal democracy. (I accidentally pasted that comment into the "edit description" line of the copyedit I did; ignore that.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Good point...it's less important how he got that position though, and the quip about democracy is more to infer that any system will do. I don't think it's significant enough to warrant another edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:38

For me, there are 2 main ways to look at this. The first one is to look at his/her relationship with her citizens while the other is about the relationships with other realms.

Inside thy realm

The main idea here is that there will be always someone (or some-group) who are not very happy with the ruler. Some of the problems they'll present will be left for the lesser people in court, but some of them won't. Maybe the veg prices rose too much and now the poor can't buy vegetables for themselves. Others, like the farmers, are using this opportunity to host bargains in the black market in order to earn even more money. Maybe the poor resolve to violence and rush on the little farmers, trying to seize as much food as they can. A king will have to deal with this situation.

But this may seem a little bit too extreme. Maybe a sense of paranoia, or a baby boom that results with a situation where there's not enough food for all of the citizens. The trick is to present a situation where the king has to make a more moral choice. As the only ruler in the realm, it is his duty to decide and to cope with the consequences.

The king can serve as a judge. Actually, most kings were judges when not in times of war, dealing with the more serious cases. Feuds between noble houses, corruption in his own home and so on… The king will have to make hard decisions, and nobody promised rainbows and ice-cream for the new king when he was announced as one, right?

Another idea, which is less commonly used, is the possibility of affairs. There will surely be those people who will try to rise by seducing the king (or "falling" for his moves). This can result in anything from a new bride to a scandal. And what will his wife think about it?

Outside of the realm

The king will have to defend his country from those around it, and as such will probably spend much of his time dealing with diplomats from the surrounding realms. Maybe the farmers from his realm by mistake crossed to the other realm's territory. Now he has to make all those talks with their diplomats to prevent a war, while still looking strong and powerful to his own people.

Or maybe it can be in terms of economical deals. Maybe the king wanna enlarge his influence in terms of economical power so he won't have to fight anymore (or something like that, think China). This will surely fill his time with deals and maybe even backstabbing.

People will try to take his place

Last but not least, some people will try to take his position. So in addition to all of the above the king now has to secure again and again his position, against enemies from within (and maybe even aided by those from outside). All in all, this can fill his time also. I think that the best example to illustrate this idea is the one in "Song of Ice and Fire".

And an end

And this concludes my 2 pence on the subject. Hope it was of any help for you.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ A note about "thy"—we often see it used to give an "ye olde timey medieval feel" to speech, but it's usually a mistake. "Thy" is the informal, familiar, personal pronoun. Nobody but a family member, usually only in private, would say "Inside thy realm" to a king, unless they were being deliberately and clumsily insulting. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:43

If you're looking for a lot of little things that come up for a ruler, I recommend poaching from a modern political drama. You'll have to re-skin the details, but shockingly little is really different about how we govern countries today versus how they were run hundreds or thousands of years ago.

My immediate suggestion is to rob from the summaries of a show like The West Wing (click into the per-season articles for episode summaries). A lot of sources will provide the "big" events of rulership, like treaty negotiations, wars, and such, but this is a great source for the little day-to-day things (though a caveat is that the show focuses on the people immediately below the President, rather than the President himself).

  • \$\begingroup\$ The player is rather obsessed with West Wing; cunning idea... \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or look at the conflict in Ukraine. Imagine that your king is on the border of a much larger an seemingly aggressive neighbor. They've taken a corner of land that they claim is their historic territory. How do you respond? \$\endgroup\$
    – GSP
    Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 14:46

Even if you delegate responsibilities to others, you cannot entirely trust them. You need to provide overall guidelines for how you want them to perform their duties, but you also have to audit how they are performing their duties.

A fun way for a PC to do this is to go in disguise amongst the people and see how the bureaucracy treats them. Obviously this is a dangerous thing to do and will lead to adventure.

Also leadership needs to go out among the people as The Leader and may even need to lead small skirmishs or large campaigns.


You may want to look at my posts on Logistics and Politics and Seven Types of Antagonists.

Rituals and Rulings

In many cultures, the king was expected to oversee certain rituals or sacrifices. This could be rarely, such as a few times a year, or it could be rather involved, such as month-long ritual efforts culminating in a major activity. China, India, much of Southeast Asia, South American cultures, Pacific Islanders, often had these duties.

If your game world has actual, active magical forces, this becomes a particularly interesting concern.

Likewise, many times kings were expected to oversee rulings on disagreements or justice. The smaller the land, the more you're looking at keeping clans from feuding, whereas the bigger territories end up with the king only overseeing the biggest cases, usually between lords.

Negotiation and Diplomacy

There's other nations out there, and a lot of agreements to make. Allies, enemies, those in-between. Keeping up a good appearance, judging the attitudes of those around you and making sure to have allies in case things go bad. Who do you marry off to whom? Who can you trust?

In some case, such as a lot of Southeast Asia, kingship was much more voluntary than feudal - by acting in a popular manner, protecting others, entire groups of people voluntarily swore allegiance and paid tribute, though it could change if someone else was more influential. In those cases, the very basis of kingship was diplomacy.

Even in classic feudal situations, people had to firm up their allegiances of their vassals or risk losing power or being overthrown.

Office Politics

Who serves under you? Lords? Councilors? Who doesn't like whom? Who is really competent but doesn't get along with someone else you need? Who is pretty bad at their job but you can't afford to get rid of?

Figuring out whom to put into what position, who to get out of position, how to do these things without getting so much resentment you get a rebellion... that's a challenge.

Who's got the power?

The less hand you take in running your kingdom, the more power the lords/councilors/etc have. And the more they have, eventually they might decide to make the decisions and leave you out of it. Or take you out of it. Maybe your nephew who is more malleable would make a better king and it would be terribly tragic if you died in a hunting accident. These things happen, you know...


Threats that can shake the kingdom itself include natural disasters, invasion or subversion by foreign powers, betrayal from within, and supernatural intervention.

Natural disasters

Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, climate change (think "little ice age") and so on can disrupt the proper functioning of the kingdom on scales from local to continental. Plague can reduce the population (and the army) and crash the economy.

Any of the above call for swift reaction from the King and can be complicated by other factors.

Invasion and subversion

Should be obvious. And while the character can probably stay on top of these threats while things are going well, you can expect this kind of threat to appear soon after anything else.

Special case: The emergence of a lost heir or some other legitimate contender for the throne.


All those people to whom he has delegated power are in positions to do enormous damage if they chose to betray him. And...

  • They may be ambitious.

  • They may have problems of their own---problem which they don't dare bring to the king's attention but which call for more resource than they have (or for misappropriating those that they control)

  • They may be tempted by foreign powers. Or supernatural ones.

Supernatural threats

The flavor here really depend on the nature of your campaign, but in many mythological structures, conflict among the gods regularly spills over onto the human world. Alternately, the daft old men over a Unseen University do seem to break through into the Dungeon Dimensions all too often. Undead threats can return without warning. And so on.


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