Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Identification and Official Documentation

I have two pieces of photo ID. One of them is a military dependent card. The other is a US passport. The military dependent card identifies me as the dependent of a member of the Armed forces and allows me to do things like get onto military posts, use their facilities, go to the doctor, etc. I had one as a kid but I’m looking forward to this one expiring in a little under a year. It was once refused at a corner store when I presented it to prove how old I was so I could buy cigarettes. It put a damper on my New Years Eve. My daughter, being only five years of age, doesn’t require one. To obtain it I had to go to a military installation and bring things like SS cards, other ID cards with pictures and paperwork saying I could get one without my spouse being there. Presently we don’t live by a major military installation so I mostly use it to show I am old enough to buy alcohol.

I use my passport for traveling, internationally and domestically. I’ve gone out of the country once, which is why I acquired the thing in the first place. It’s actually kind of cool to look at. Supposedly there is a chip in there? I had to bring a slew of paperwork to a central post office to get one. I tried to file for my daughter’s at the same time but there is a law and an extra piece of paperwork which has to be filled out by both parents in order to obtain a passport for a minor if one of the parents is not present, even if the parent present has a pretty hefty POA, which I had. It meant I had to mail the piece of paperwork to my spouse who was overseas and wait to get back before I could file for hers. We both got our passports and they’re both just kind of hanging out, waiting for us to take places somewhere again.

In addition to these, I have my Social Security Card with its awesome beginning number that is REALLY low from being born on the East Coast. An expired permit that is basically good for nothing. Birth certificate, marriage license.

Student identifications, working papers, work visas, student visas, drivers licenses. Death certificates. It’s a lot to keep track of, and all of it important. Lose one of them, you’re sure to need it the next day.

Without certain documents proving you are who you say you are, one could find it difficult to obtain a job, enroll yourself or offspring in school, receive aid, gain admittance to certain locations or cross borders or buy certain wares. In simple settings, having someone vouch for you or swearing you are who you say you are is enough but as more bureaucracy, secrecy and issues of security and/or finances pile up, you better have the right stuff.

Issues of mistaken identity, identity theft, ownership, the right to move freely, have employment, and more can make many situations in role playing games even more complicated than they already are. Documents, official seals and IDs have been used to aid and hurt people over human history. Where there are official documents to be obtained, there are always people needing forgeries and those willing to at least make them, which encourages people to make better and more tricky items that are hard to copy. Which side with the PCs be on? And of course, do they look good in their pictures?

For GMs

  • What kinds of official documents and identifications are required in the area? Are there ones for nationality? For work/certain professions/guilds? Ownership? What power and function do these documents hold?
  • Who makes these documents? Who has access to these documents? Where are they available to obtain?
  • What makes these documents ‘official’? Is there a special seal on them? A signature? Are they printed on special material or in special ink? Who has these special seals and signatures and who is trusted to be able to tell genuine articles from originals?
  • Is there a cost incurred for obtaining special documents? Or are they free for anyone eligible?
  • Is there a certain age one must be to obtain various types of identification or that require official documentation (working papers, ID, land ownership, etc)? How does one go about proving one’s age?
  • How are officials trained to recognize documents? What are surefire signs of forgeries?
  • Are there checkpoints where documents/IDs are checked? Who is guarding these locations? What are they looking for/trying to keep out?
  • What kinds are things are included on personal ID documents? Pictures? Physical characteristics?

Plot Hooks

  • The Royal Midwife and all her belongings have gone missing before the successor to the throne can be verified as being old enough to take the throne. Traditionally the midwife must vouch for the child when they come of age. The PCs must find the midwife so the next in line can be named the next ruler. What are the circumstances surrounding her disappearance? Did anyone see her leave? What will happen if she isn’t located? Was she kidnapped or did she leave of her own volitions? How did she and her belongings get out of the castle?
  • The PCs are sent with a shipment of materials to make official documents. En route, one item is stolen from the shipment. What one item is stolen? What role does it play in the document making process? When was it apparently stolen? Who or what could have possibly stolen it?
  • The PCs are all sent to work a checkpoint in an outlying town where they must check the official travelling documents of anyone passing through. Shifts alternate between guarding the road and monitoring the surrounding area. Recently they have received orders to be strict with their monitoring. What are they being asked to look for? What are the other teams of border patrol agents like? How are they supposed to check the documents?
  • When the PCs are sent on a mission in another country, one of the PCs finds the travel documents they have been given are forgeries. Now the entire party is being detained and the documents of the other PCs are under scrutiny. What document specifically is forged? Where did the PCs obtain their documents? Who is refusing their
  • When a wild supply of a substance used to make official documents is discovered, the PCs are sent to collect as much as they can carry and destroy the rest before it falls into the wrong hands. How secret is the mission the PCs are on? Who might want to get to the substance before the PCs do? Who knows they are going and what they’re going to do? Who wants it destroyed?
  • A new law requires all PCs to obtain identification/civil documentation of some kind. Several factions of people refuse to comply as they say doing so will enable the government to infringe upon their personhood and will negatively affect certain people groups. The PCs are sent to try and convince the people to comply. What are the exact arguments of those dissenting? Do they have any political backing in the capitol?  How do the PCs feel about the new rules? What are the dissenters threatening to do? What are the PCs ordered to do if they can’t get the people to comply?
  • When the ID laws start to get out of hand, a demand for fake IDs and travel papers is on the rise. The PCs are all employed by the government working with making the IDs in some fashion but feel disillusioned and want to help those being affected. Taking up with the black market, they work to help make the forgeries needed. When someone gets wind that a new technology will make forgeries almost impossible to make, they are closest to the project and charged with not letting this come to pass. What is the new technology? What roles do they have in the process? Do the PCs seek to destroy it, disable/delay it or copy it? Who are they working for? What do they have to gain if they succeed?

For PCs

  • What kind of official documents do you have?
  • Which documents do you carry on you? Which do you keep in a safe location?
  • Who would vouch for you concerning your identity?
  • Do you take comfort in knowing pieces of paper vouch for your identity and holdings? Or would you rather rely on oaths or personal statements?

What say you? There can be more to your character than what’s on the character sheet. Bureaucracy ahoy!


2 thoughts on “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Identification and Official Documentation

Add yours

  1. The question of what makes a document official is very important, making document secure has been a constant race between the authorities and forgers. From wax and lead seals, to special papers and inks, to modern inventions like embedded holograms. Now a world with magic could do some amazing tricks with ways to identify people.


    1. Yeah, once you throw magic in there the sky is the limit. Of course, the cost of infusing documents with magic will up the cost to produce and you would want to keep track of who can perform this much needed service. Wizard notaries? How common would those be? Who keeps track of them? What kind of documents do they have access to?


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