(This article concerns the economic system Autarky for the minarchist political system see Autarchy)
Autarky simply means "self-sufficiency", but it often comes with the implication that this self-sufficiency is sternly mandated. Autarky can function as an economic system, such as the mercantilism employed by Colonial Era Empires. In cases such as this, the nation or empire is itself is an autarky. Everything the people need is provided within the nation, with no imports or exports. Obviously this only works if the nation is prosperous, and has enough natural resources to feed, clothe and house its people1. In order to make autarkism total, you'd also need a powerful central government that was willing to expend a lot of energy patrolling the borders. Often then, a country will only be a partial autarky, having restricted, taxed, or otherwise limited trade with other nations.
Autarky most commonly comes up in discussions of economics, but private organizations can be set up as autarkies, relying only upon their membership with no outside assistance. For example, a military can be an autarky if it provides its own supplies and support. An army that is an autarky would not do business with (and most likely not tolerate) independent camp followers. It would live off the land, or control it's own supply lines. Such an army would provide it's own ships and aircraft (or make do with out them) rather than coordinate with an external navy or airforce.
Game and Story Use
- The PCs cross a border into a xenophobic or totalitarian autarky. The border patrol gives them all sorts of trouble.
- GM looks at a PCs character sheet. "They are deeply concerned about the fact that your group is collectively carrying over a hundred arrows. You might be planning a rebellion, or worse yet, you might be merchants attempting to sell foreign goods. They confiscate all but 6 of your arrows, just to be safe. Six should be more than enough to cover your hunting needs, so you'll just have to trust the local patrols to keep orcs and brigands away. Should 6 prove insufficient, you can buy more locally-produced arrows at any government-approved mercantile center." The GM and the NPC both smile.
- A nation might impose embargoes or tariffs to control trade and make themselves more self-sufficient. As a result, imported goods cost double what locally produced items do.
- The GM can use our Random Nations Generator to find out what sort of things the locals do and don't produce.
- You could use such taxes and restrictions to justify altering or limiting the equipment lists of your game.
- Opportunities might exist for PCs to buy or sell on the black market and make a profit.
- Autarky allows the GM to keep the plot confined to a small area and the economic system simple. An autarkal nation might restrict travel, or have no friendly neighboring nations to visit or trade with. If need be, it can function as a hand wave to let you ignore plotlines and concerns of diplomacy, trade, and politics.
- A group trying to be an autarky, but lacking the resources, will be at an disadvantage. You can use this to handicap a conflict, or provide dramatic instability in a system or nation.
- For example, a large and seemingly powerful nation might actually be vulnerable due to grain shortages. If it doesn't win the war within the first month or two, it will eventually lose due to starvation and desertion.
- The PCs inherit, capture, or claim a castle or manor deep in the wilderness. Importing supplies is difficult, and they are forced to make a go at being an autarky. Anybody got any levels in the "farming" skill? Where's the fun in that? The "winter" system in games like Pendragon RPG and Orkworld RPG manage to make compelling minigames out of the down-time between adventures. You could do the same for your campaign.