I hope today's topic isn't too much of a cheat, since I don't have a simple "symbol" for the idea that I'd like to talk about. (Try these, if you really crave one?) I also hope this idea isn't too much of a re-tread of stuff I talked about on E-day and I-day... There are many cool aspects to interconnected and interdependent Networks, no matter what the "nodes" and "links" actually represent.
Today I'm thinking about political and diplomatic networks. I guess the "nodes" could be towns, cities, nation-states, or planets (the latter in a sci-fi setting!). The links between them are relationships: Alliance or enmity? Do trade goods flow freely? Does a common religion forge a bond? Prior to the modern age, the INTENSITY of feeling between two regions (whether friend or enemy) was probably tightly correlated with the distance between them. These days, that's probably still largely true, but technology is making distance less of an issue. Here's a graphical representation of a randomly distributed set of nodes, where the thickness and brightness of the linking lines depends only on physical closeness:
One of the fun parts about tabletop role-playing is setting up a "sandbox" type world for the players to explore. Game masters love making maps, but the real verisimilitude comes when working out the relationships that link the points on the map together. Alexis Smolensk is infamous for delving deeply into the economic aspects of these linkages. Old-school RPGs often had "racial preference" tables that told you what the various demi-human species thought of one another. 1st edition AD&D used the following continuum of default feelings:
preference > goodwill > tolerance > neutrality > antipathy > hatred
...and I think it would be straightforward to apply these labels to neighboring towns and cities, as well. In a similar vein, I've seen some computer variants of games like Diplomacy and Civilization use specific hierarchies of political relationship (see here or here, for example) as a way to quantify the difficulty or ease of accomplishing specific goals. I've assembled a few of these lists together to form the following gradation of 11 steps...
One could imagine any connection between two locations on the map having a known "temperature." Over time, it can heat up or cool down -- and it's especially fun when the player characters become embroiled in these events. In a fantasy, feaux-feudal setting, maybe something like Jeff Rients' random castle shenanigans could kick off a chain of events that cause the mercury to skyrocket! :-)