Resident Alien
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See me walking down Fifth Avenue
A walking cane here at my side
I take it everywhere I walk
I'm an Englishman in New York

I'm an alien I'm a legal alien
I'm an Englishman in New York

(from) Englishman in New York Sting

Basic Information

A resident alien is a person dwelling in a foreign nation of which they are not a citizen. This category generally implies some kind of long term or indefinite leave to remain - if not long term or indefinite they are merely a visitor, and without leave of any kind they are an illegal alien. In some times and places this sort of status can even apply to people visiting a town or city in the same country where they are not a resident.

In many places a resident foreigner will have significantly reduced freedoms - in the modern, developed world this may be limited to not much more than a lack of franchise, but in other times and places he may be unable to bring a legal case in his own right, own property, enter into business contracts, marry a local, bear arms or even live outside a designated area. This may or may not be tied in with a class or caste stratification which might well assign foreigners to where they appear to fit in the local understanding. Particularly xenophobic (or just nosey) societies may keep resident foreigners under surveillance or even quarantine to limit their ability to interact with the indigenous population. In a setting with multiple species, over and above matters of race and nationality things may be even more amusing.

A place with a lot of resident aliens may well develop a de-facto (or even de-jure) alienage - a specific "quarter" in which foreigners are obliged, expected or even just prone to live. This may be as small as one designated inn, or virtually a suburb - probably located next to a dock or marketplace as trade is the usual motivator for travel in the pre-modern period. This may be a lively, cosmopolitan place where foreign foods and goods are easily purchased, or a fortified, ghetto like place wary of rioting mobs from the rest of the city … and the two aspects may coexist.

Unsurprisingly, this can all get a lot worse if the host country and country of origin fall out - the hapless resident alien will then find himself re-classified as an enemy alien and subject to even more suspicion.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Players used to easy modern travel to places where tourists are expected might well be perturbed by realistic pre-modern settings where people from a few cities away are treated with suspicion, let alone actual foreign people
  • Possibly a way of choking back all the people who insist on playing kung-fu monks and ninjas in your pseudomedieval Europe ("if you like … but you'll need to live in the alienage and the rest of the party will have to manage most of your business for you. For a start.")
  • Obviously a source of employers and patrons for PCs - for example a rich foreign merchant who needs local agents to handle his business and security dealings.
  • An alienage is also good for some plots: you have a culture clash at the boundary, people with questionable legal status (and possibly various protective or business organizations among them), possibly illicit affairs that can never be recognized in law…
  • Of course, in many pre-modern settings, telling one kind of foreigner from another could be tricky - a medieval Englishman, for example might or might not be able to tell a Frenchman from a Fleming or a Burgundian (… and there was that monkey up in Hartlepool, but that was later) and Roma and Jews often got what was intended for Saracens. Movement between the classes of enemy alien and resident alien may occur unexpectedly. Even into the modern era - or at least during the Great War - various Scandinavians, Dutchmen and other random Europeans had to be rescued from angry mobs convinced that they had caught a German spy…
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