So, I am a little bit of an oddball in the design community I believe. My day job is in government science (ecology) where I deal with large environmental systems. As a product of this, I have been exposed to a lovely little piece of ecological systems theory that might be intriguing from an RPG design perspective.
Hierarchy Theory is based on the principle that everything occurs at multiple nested scales. For instance, you may have a Kingdom (Level 1). This kingdom contains a number of different components, including Forests (1.1), Plains (1.2), Farmland (1.3) and Urban (1.4).
Each component is broken into sub-sections. Urban land is broken into Village of Northheim (L1.4.1), the Village of Niflheim (L1.4.2) and the keep on the borderlands (L1.4.3). Each of those is broken down further and further.
The lower in the hierarchy, the easier it may change and the faster any change can take place. Changing the Kingdom is very hard to do and might take a generation. Changing the character of urban lands may be easier; bandit raids or famine could change the character of the urban lands. Changing the state of a single village would be even easier; destroying a building or adding a new well could change the character of the village within a week.
The interesting thing in my books is that a change at a lower level can nudge a higher level to change it's nature. Bandits burn one building in one village and people in all of the urban areas become more wary. Continued bandit attacks lead to the entire Kingdom taking note and pressure being placed on the king to do something.
The extra little conceptual bit to the theory is that each component can change state, if enough pressure is placed on it. Enough stress and Northheim might change from being a happy and economically beneficial village into a fearful dysfunctional one which is a drain on the local economy (1.4) and of concern to the Kingdom (1). Each component of the greater whole is a giant switch that can be toggled.
Just to finish off this overwrought post, consider that each component can be more then physical. Physical, socio-political and economic elements can be their own components in the greater whole. You might convince people (political) to take matters into their own hands and form a militia since the local knights clearly aren't doing their jobs. The political affects the physical, which in turn affects economics.....
Does this rambling, based on a scientific underpinning, inspire any ideas in the community? Any other games out there that run with similar concepts? Could you write a novel game with this?