In his 1516 book, A Truly Golden Little Book, No Less Beneficial Than Entertaining, of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia, English writer Thomas More described an ideal country called Utopia. Whether by accident or design, the name in Greek could mean either "Good Place" or "No Place". You be the judge1.
Utopia is a crescent-shaped island, roughly 200 miles across, located just off the coast of South America. It has a society in which there is no private ownership of property, and all goods are kept in public warehouses to be distributed at need. The economy is largely based on agriculture and all citizens are required to spend a part of their lives working on farms. They are also required to learn at least one other trade, usually a simple, practical one like weaving, carpentry or metalworking. There is no unemployment, and most people work six-hour days, unless they wish to work longer; allowing ample leisure time for study. There are no locks on the doors of Utopia, and citizens rotate to different houses about once every ten years.
There is gold on Utopia, but since the country's economy does not use currency, the gold is used for things like chains for criminals and chamber pots, so that the citizens will learn to despise it2. Those convicted of crimes under Utopia's laws usually must work as slaves for other citizens. The laws themselves are simple and few so that everyone can understand them; therefore there are no lawyers.
Utopia enjoys a high degree of religious tolerance and harbors a number of religious sects. The only exception to this tolerance is atheism, which is discouraged by Utopian society, but not outright banned. Women have fewer rights than in modern day societies, but have a generally higher status than English women of More's day.
More's work has given the name to other idealized societies.
A fictional community with a decidedly horrible society is referred to as a Dystopia. As noted above, the distinction highlighted by the original Greek is also being brought back in speculative fiction with Eutopia describing an idealised society and Utopia a merely conjectural one.
Game and Story Use
- In a fantasy campaign set in the 1500s, PC explorers might come across Utopia
- How much do you want to bet they'll want to steal the golden chamber pots?
- Utopian communities might pop up in any time and location.
- Utopias are usually excuses for the author/GM to indulge in political satire/commentary. Keep the editorializing in small doses.
- Go the Omelas route. The PCs start out in some vague utopia with whatever traits the players define as utopian, and then discover that it needs to do something horrible (mass brainwashing, making the rest of the planet unlivable, bargains with Hell) to keep existing. Are the PCs willing to keep living in Paradise, even knowing the price? Do they end the practice that keeps everyone happy? Do they walk away and wash their hands of the whole problem?
- A simple method would be to follow the pattern of Moore's Utopia - the society is luxurious, but highly conformist and intolerant of dissent (the protagonist of the original work was first enslaved and then forced to flee Utopia for spreading un-Utopian ideas). The usual trade-off between comfort and freedom.