Can You Have a Democracy in Your D&D Setting?

Many homebrew D&D settings have creative regions that range from being governed by feudal systems to tribal communities to independent cities and towns, but what about democracy in the land of D&D? Lords and knights and barons and kings seem to go hand-in-hand with the high fantasy setting, but if you are creating your own world, spicing it up with some democracy can add to the variety

While we may think of democracy as a relatively new concept that swept through Europe and the Americas following the French revolution, the concept actually dates back to 5th century BC in Greece and was used to the describe the democracy found in city-states like Athens. The founding of the U.S. was modeled after the Republic of Rome, which Rome adopted after casting off the early kings. This form of government lasted until Julius Caesar, and later, Augustus Caesar turned Rome into an empire.

The Roman form of democracy can be a great model for how a Republic might look standing aside the tribal and feudal systems often found in a good homebrew setting for D&D and Pathfinder. Most of us have heard of the Roman Senate, but did you know that these senators were comprised of citizens who had been elected Consul or held another elected office? During the years of the Republic, Rome was ruled by two Consuls who were elected and generally did not run for re-election in consecutive years. Either Consul could veto the other, thus preventing “absolute” power and the need for compromise.

This system of changing out Consul’s every year and the ability for either Consul to overrule the other kept the power in check. As I mentioned, the Senate was comprised of those who had held certain public offices such as Consul or Magistrate and the Senate, being a more permanent political structure, held a fair amount of power.

But get this: There wasn’t any real police force in Rome. And with dozens and hundreds of senators trying to hash things out, sometimes things got a bit… violent. In fact, there were more than a few deaths that happened during brawls where senators would break apart chairs and beat their opponent with the chair’s wooden legs.

Imagine the party being hired to guard over one political side of a senate meeting. The party might come from feudal or tribal systems of government where the idea of voting for laws seems ludicrous. They sit. They watch. And suddenly all of these old people in robes start beating on each other.

What About Our Own Form of Democracy?

Another way to go about creating democracy — and even an entire society — is to think of magic as an alternative to technology. There’s nothing forcing a homebrew setting into medieval times! People and society itself may have evolved into its current form while technology remained relatively limited (i.e. no one discovered gunpowder or the idea of atoms).

One key component for creating your own setting is to ask yourself just how much magic exists in the world. This takes multiple forms. Magic itself can be somewhat limited or very rare, so there’s not a wizard on every street corner. Or magic could be prevalent, but magic items are very rare. Or, magic and magic items are extremely common, such a poles on every street corner with continual light cast on them and orbs that are installed in most households that allow the occupants to speak to anyone they want. Or perhaps the orb is inhabited by a friendly ghost called Alexa?

Taking our current society and technology and bending it into a high magic-low technology world can be quite a fun task for world building and a lot of fun for players to explore.