DMing a Fantasy Police Force – Part II – Composition

In a previous post I began a discussion on how you can add a little more detail to the traditional city guard or police force in your fantasy campaigns. I talked about the various commanding bodies as to who may be in charge of these fantasy law forces.

In this post I delve a little deeper into the composition of what type of individuals make up the rank and file of these persons empowered by a given state, organization or governmental body.

2. Composition

Native. Whether under the authority of a government or sovereign state or put together by private organizations, most fantasy police forces should probably consist of a body of volunteer citizens local to the area. Through some type of training which could include anything from a simple month-long cadet academy to something as rigorous as a multi-year lyceum, the means by which a region recruits and produces its police force within a volunteer structure would entail a sufficient culture that encourages and expects a certain number of its citizenry to engage in policing its own members.

This setup, where citizens from within a community take it upon themselves to engage in enforcement duties implies a more integrated enforcement culture, that being one where the interests of those on ‘the force’ and the populace at large are very similar. Through voluntary or conscripted service, a native police force should consist largely of a segment of individuals within a given culture or region who either through personal desire or a shared background form the basis of a settlements constabulary.

For instance, a borderland region along the edge of a lengthy forest in a typical fantasy setting may consist entirely of a half-elven force due to their close kinship and their connections to the nearby woodlands. Similarly, a human metropolis may have certain districts or wards that produce the bulk of the police force for that city. These human’s may all share a common heritage or familial lineage making both the citizenry and the members of the guard themselves come to expect that a certain percentage of these peoples enter ‘the force’. If you wanted to push this concept even further, you could make joining a local police force compulsory for certain members of a community, for example incorporating the fact that all males aged 18 or above and residing in a certain district or ward eventually become part of the city watch. This concept of a draft, while in the real world is mostly reserved for military forces (for instance the modern-day IDF, or the ancient Spartans), certainly could apply to fantasy worlds.

Overall, what makes a volunteer or native police force attractive from a DM standpoint is the ease it affords in incorporating NPCs belonging to that force. Mannerisms, accents and customs would all align closely with the setting already created, and little extra thought would be needed to implement a native or citizen-composed police force. Additionally, the moralistic and ethical ties that a native police force would have in a given community makes PCs actions that much more impactful. For instance, a rogue may be able to disappear into a crowded marketplace in a city where the police are largely apathetic or foreign-born, but may be much more likely to be hunted down with greater interest in a town where the police and the citizens view their home with similar views of safety and security.

Mercenary. Bringing in foreign personnel to serve a community as its enforcers demonstrates a scenario where natives and their policing force may be in direct opposition.

Take for example the 4th Edition Mintarn guard of Neverwinter. These outsiders give DMs the option of making a force filled with interesting and engaging figures potentially motivated by very distinct cultural, regional or political prerogatives. Coin, ideology, or foreign conscription means that mercenary police forces are rife for all sorts polarizing potential. Instead of a tightly-knit community of native citizenry, mercenary forces provide players the opportunity to appeal to varying sympathies and self-interest possessed by these ‘outsiders’. While the same can be said of native forces, the loyalty of these mercenary forces may be much more malleable. Their mere presence may mean that the city watch is a motley collection of different races and peoples of various origins, offering players a greater chance of finding common ground with at least one or two of these law officers.

From a DM perspective, a mercenary police force adds a further layer of complexity and forethought to a campaign. Creating a distinct region or culture that these mercenary forces are culled from requires more planning by the DM, but also grants them a convenient tool to insert deeper intrigue, the chance for more frictional urban strife and a greater range of NPC options than the standard fare of guard, knight or veteran.

From a player’s perspective, a mercenary force affords chance to move with greater ease in a given urban environment. A foreign police force may be less interested in the affairs of the locals, based of course on the DMs prerogative in this regards, but more than likely a certain lack of community connections should be assumed that a otherwise native force might have. Players should be able to play up this foreign-native dynamic to their advantage. Additionally, mercenary forces, again at the DMs discretion, may be much more amenable towards monetary incentives to ignore certain activities that a populace overseeing themselves would be less inclined to overlook.

Special Interest. Perhaps recruited from the local populace or perhaps imported, special interest police forces are those that are formed with a particular purpose in overseeing a given community at the behest of a very specific governing body. The key to developing these types of policing setups are envisioning the organization or agency that controls them.

For example, a fantasy campaign may include a Lawful Neutral deity devoted towards Contracts whose warforged police force oversees an extra-planar world. The purpose of these troops may not be to impose public order or investigate crimes. Instead, these policing agents may exist solely to ensure the proper execution of contracts signed within the realm. Likewise, a tropical jungle may be protected by a powerful circle of druids who employ a band of rangers whose sole mandate is to ensure the protection of the plants and animals in the region. Humanoid affairs in the area may go completely unregulated but this band of protectors offer punitive responses to any trespasses against the land or its fauna.

Whatever the reason behind these special interest policing forces, the difference between these and native or mercenary organizations is the implied dedication and commitment that these individuals have towards their mandates. Special interest police forces should be serious in their obligations and act as thorough arbiters of their particular jurisdictions. While a local officer or a mercenary trooper may look the other way when a starving teenager steals a piece of bread in the market, a necromantic enforcer would seek punishment for a tiny vial of healing herbs stolen from a local hospice for an ailing relative. In addition to their dedication, specialized forces should have the benefit of increased training and equipment, making formidable opponents to players. These special interest forces are great tools to a DM to drive a plot forward and offer real and lasting consequences to player actions. From a players perspective, the threat of such forces, or their potential desire to interact with these stringent foes are great hooks to motivate and wet their role-playing appetites.


Creature Types

The types of NPCs that form the rank and file of a police force can come from the NPCs found in the Monster Manual, but also third-party and home-brew sources. The following rough guide, in order from lowest to highest rank offer general titles and brief descriptions of the types of units you can add to your fantasy police force.

Officer/Deputy/Trooper/Corporal: A regular officer, with little or no insignia. General policing duties, with the lowest pay and the common face most citizens have of a police force. NPC options: Guard (MM), Thug (MM), Scout (MM)

Possible additional skill proficiencies: Athletics, Acrobatics, Intimidation, Perception

Detective/Inspector/Investigator: An analytical and investigative specialist called to investigate specific and complex instances of crimes. They may wear either regular outfits or slightly stylized uniforms, depending on the occasion. At this rank, units may oversee lower officers either because of years of experience, expertise or general pay grade. In fantasy settings, having detectives over specific areas  pertinent to a given campaign world may be appropriate. For instance, Arcane Detectives, Religious Investigators or Woodland Inspectors could all be possible instances of investigators at this level of a given police force. NPC options: Acolyte (MM), Apprentice Wizard (VOLO), Cultist(MM), Druid (MM), Spy (MM)

Possible additional skill proficiencies: Deception, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Persuasion, Stealth

Sergeant/Lieutenant/Captain/Major: Commanding officers of a force, with years of experience or possessing the rank and title through adept political prowess or personal connections. Their attire should be functional but also incorporate decorative insignia to indicate their status within an police force. This rank of officer may oversee lower grades, a specific region or a specific field. These officers should have a fair amount of training and plenty of connections. The consequences of interfering or opposing this level of trooper might have significant consequences in a campaign. NPC options: Bandit Captain (MM), Cult Fanatic (MM), Knight (MM), Mage (MM), Veteran (MM)

Possible additional skill proficiencies: Athletics, Deception, Insight, Perception, Persuasion

Special Rank: Certain officers in a police force might have specialized skills and fighting capabilities as well as belong to specific branches or departments. The function of these special troops could be anything from pseudo-militaristic assault teams to highly trained crime scene investigators. In a fantasy world, these could be religious justiciars, arcane hunters, or alchemical explosive experts. While players may encounter regular officers in straightforward encounters, special officers should be encountered through surprise scenarios or in unique situations directly related to the campaign arc. NPC options: Acolyte (MM), Archer (VOLO), Assassin (MM), Cult Fanatic (MM), Gladiator (MM), Illusionist (VOLO), Mage (MM), Martial Arts Adept (VOLO), Master Thief (VOLO)

Possible additional skill proficiencies: Any

Chief/Deputy/Commissioner/Sheriff: Selected by those who formed the police force and put in charge to oversee its functioning, these individuals possess the skill and years of experience to be formidable administrators and superintendents. With insignia to match their title of office, these leaders should take an active interest in any affairs of their realm that interfere with interests of those who put them in charge. They are masterminds of a given region and should be played against PC in such a manner, should the need arise. NPC options: Champion (VOLO)

Possible additional skill proficiencies: Deception, History, Insight, Perception, Persuasion


Thanks for reading the second part of DMing a Fantasy Police Force – Composition. The next part will go into detail on Social ContractThe Relationship between a Community and its Force.



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