In-game Politics

edited June 2011 in General Discussion
Hey guys I've been thinking about launching a campaign that takes place in a Renaissance Italy like setting
Naturally that includes lots of in game politics which is proving to be mechanically tricky, so suggestion on how to conduct that are welcome.
This also raises the topic about all in game politics and general suggestions on it is welcome.


  • kenurion
    Posts: 80
    Hi Chomsky2,

    Here are some suggestions:

    1/ Don't make it too complicated. Create 4-6 major political entities the party is likely to deal with (as enemies, allies or something in between). You don't need to map out the whole world. This list can evolve as power waxes and wanes and the party increases in level (start with the petty squabbles of hedge knights, move up to powerful lords, and then to full-blown city-states).

    2/ Create motivations for each entity. Each major entity should have some source of power to use and protect (a trade route, a mine, a crack army, abundant fields of wheat), and something to covet (more territory, permanent security from that pesky orc tribe, an artifact that may or may not be in the possession of a different major entity). Make an attempt at balance of power. Even though A could easily overcome B, it risks being attacked by C, so it can't commit its full army to attack B, so it just stays put.

    3/ Create personalities for each entity. This should include morality (alignment) as well as characteristics such as how nice they are, how long they hold a grudge, the amount of deference they expect from low-life adventurers, etc.

    4/ Given the motivations, desires, and personalities of each entity, figure out their relationships with each other and make a table out of it for easy reference. Include schemes in the table. For example, A hates B b/c B controls a trade route A covets. B is also polite and evil while A is rude and good. Because A is good, it won't just attack B, so A is looking for a credible pretext to wrest control of the trade route from B. Meanwhile, C is also good and might have helped A, but because A was rude to C 2 years ago, C refuses to have anything to do with A. B is looking for someone to spy on D b/c it believes D is not paying the full tribute its supposed to after B trounced D in a war 5 years ago, etc. After this is all set, insert the party. They'll need to figure out who to help and who to fight and may initially be on the "wrong" side. Eventually they will tip the balance one way or the other and then you can introduce new entities to replace the ones that have faded into irrelevance.

    5/ The entities should act on their schemes with or without the party's direct involvement. Appropriate consequences should be observable by the party. B attacks E and the party hears about it in the tavern after finishing some work for A. They are left to wonder why B attacked E and are concerned what will happen to A who is an ally of E especially because they haven't been paid yet.

    5/ Resist the desire to spill all the beans. If the players have full information, then there's no risk and no fun for anyone. Resist the desire to modify things in hindsight. Let things play out. If something turns out to be unbalanced, that's fine. Sometimes politics is unfair! Just bring a new entity into the picture.
  • Poutine_Paladin
    Posts: 285
    Good list, Kenurion, just a couple of quick additions.

    If you're going for a Renaissance feel, the church should play a fairly major role in the political actions of the players (and by players I mean various political powers, not the PC's necessarily). Whether these various players are scheming with or against the church, or trying to gain favor with it, etc should be a major driving force for a lot of their "schemes."

    The best reference would be to read up a bit on the Medici family of Florence from 1360 (Giovanni di Bicci) to 1503 (death of Lorenzo "il popolano"), and see how their power struggle went down.

    I completely agree with having a lot of things happening "behind the scenes" and also suggest mapping out some events timelines that happen whether or not the PC's are involved in them, so the world actually revolves without their direct involvement. In political struggles often people return to a town after being away for a seemingly short time to find a significant shift in power, for example.
  • floridafayboy
    Posts: 13 edited June 2011
    In my campaign I have 4 major groups and many minor groups. Minor groups are fun because they can show up for just a single adventure then be completely eliminated. My group has even helped a minor group flourish though their actions, the group may even become a 5th major power if my group keeps assisting them.

    Mine breaks down like this.
    1. The government: Always a big player, they tend to bow to other factions who self-govern.
    2. The guilds: This typically includes craft and traders though could be expanded.
    3. The clergy: There are dozens of religions and I've chosen 3 or 4 to highlight and introduce the party to. I leaned towards religions that the players followed.
    4. The secret groups: We have a group for good and a few for evil. These groups typically have members in all other groups which makes for some great divided alegiances.

    Kenurion has some great advice. The groups all need a motivation to make them more tangible. Make some of the groups really transparent, like the carpenter's guild wants more of the forest to farm lumber, while protecting their monopoly in the city and running out any independant workers. Then make some really crytpic, like the thieves guild at first glance is just a group to help other theives do their deeds. However at closer inspection, the group has political and financial aspirations. Their leaders want seats of nobility and their members want to run out the money exchangers and take over this legitimate business as well as thievery. Just sit down, make a nice list with a few questions answered for each faction and then let the rest happen organically.

    I don't know if your a off the cuff DM or a plan everything out DM but for me I write the Why's and the How's and let the game run itself and my character's interactions and inspiration write the rest as we play.

    Best of luck!

    Post edited by floridafayboy on
  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 2,994
    If your system does not have skills/checks for each type of intrigue (one of the reasons I like Palladium's rule set is the multitude of skills) then I would, as GM, start making some up. I would use whatever your systems bonuses to charm/impress/intimidate as a bonus to interaction.


    "A God...Rebuilt":

    Just trying to help out.

  • PartyPanda
    Posts: 33
    What system are you planning on using?

    ~The Panda
  • Chomsky2
    Posts: 5
    3.5 D and D
  • DarkMagus
    Posts: 425
    In the final chapter of my Ilumnos campaign (which I haven't posted yet because I'm a professional procrastinator who put off typing up 6 months of gaming...) I had some politics, though nothing in depth, but enough to give the game the feeling of it being a real world with its own complexities of power and ideology.

    Because the setting was based on Shadowrun, with there being robots and the ability to replace parts of the human body with advanced artificial mechanical parts I created three ideologies which gave some background color to the world. I also thought about what groups would hold which ideologies, and how much power they held.

    Though my content will not be useful to you in your Renaissance Italy game, I just figured it might help sharing just so you can see how I went about it.


    Neo-Human: (Human & Machine = Same; Integration, Equality)
    Man and Machine have integrated, the lines are blurred, there is no distinction. This is the new humanity, we have just evolved.

    Post-Human: (Human & Machine = Different; Integration, Superiority)
    The shortcomings of man have made it obsolete. Machines are better and will inherit the future, sure they may resemble man in ways, just as man resembles primate ancestors but their time has passed. Machines are superior and man should integrate with machine or disappear into the history books.

    Anti-human: (Human & Machine = Different; Segregation, Superiority)
    Rejection of all things seen as human. Strongly conflicts with neo-humanism for "dragging in all the junk of humanity into something so perfect." It stresses the binary of black and white, total order, lack of morality, neutrality and objectivity. The end of "the subject" and/or "subjectivity".


    I could have made a whole world based on the conflicts between these ideologies and their forces, but that wasn't the point of that story so it became just background detail, but I do plan on reusing it again sometime in a future campaign.
  • Chomsky2
    Posts: 5
    In my saga edition campaign Revolution! I've been able to sort of put in my socialist fantasies about revolution and society, which has been fun because i can do it here instead of doing it by flying down to Chiapas and joining the EZLN rebellion.
  • DarkMagus
    Posts: 425
    Sounds fun! Looking forward to reading it when it eventually takes off.

    Good luck!

  • JonathonVolkmer
    Posts: 114
    I'm actually running a game set on the southern coast of Europe (well, the map, but it's a D&D fantasy with little to do with reality other than a few place names), and using a bit of politics to set the backdrop for the story. The party is based in a mid-sized trading city on the coast between a human-centric Genova (Genoa to English-speakers) and an fictional elvish city which replaces Marseilles. A small privateer war is currently ongoing between the two major polities over some trade issues, and the smaller city has been caught in the crossfire. With a raiding tribe of orcs moving south (think a small horde of visigoths, maybe?) they hired the elvish army to protect them.

    The party gets involved in politics here when someone steals the payroll for the elvish mercenaries, possibly leaving the city now unable to pay them and open to a vengeful sack before the orcs even arrive. After much dashing about and several violent crimes which they may just get away with, they are finally realizing that it's all a Genovan plot to drive a wedge between their city and the elves. Gee, guess that background info was important.

    And, to be honest, my party's just a good-aligned (mostly? well, okay, maybe neutral-aligned with a few good or lawful tendencies) band of thugs. (If you're reading this, guys, don't take that as an insult - you're a very entertaining band of thugs!) The lessen, in my opinion, is that politics belongs in every game, because even a vague backdrop like my trade war makes the gameworld feel more complete and real. Heck, I don't even have to go into detail on what they're disagreeing about!


    As far as mechanics are concerned, I think that kenurion covered a good general set of rules. For more specific mechanics, there are different ways to go. "Birthright": is a 3.X setting, and you could probably cannibalize some of its rules for your purposes if the players will be acting on the world stage. For background stuff, you're probably better off arbitrating. I'd also recommend SIFRP as a really useful game for ideas about political interactions. The whole setting is about gaining power for your noble house, so yeah.
  • igornappovich
    Posts: 76
    I suggest a numeric chart (values from 0 to 10, 10 being most favorable) to keep track of how each faction views the others. for a three faction system, it might look like this:

    . . . . A . B . C .
    A . . . - . 7 . 0 .
    B . . . 5 . - . 4 .
    C . . . 2 . 5 . - .

    So, faction A is currently pleased with faction B from the above example, and really despises faction C. You can quickly use such a chart to help you decide which faction might be chosen as either a target by another faction, or as an ally in any specific instance. Also, when one faction does something that pleases another (or several other) faction(s), you can just bump the numbers up or down a point or two. It also helps you decide when making a tough choice... say for instance faction B is deciding between asking faction A or C to join in a coalition to get something through parliament... you can see that currently A has a slight edge in the matter. But its close enough for some politicking to swing the balance....

    Now in the same situation, except its faction A deciding who to ask... you can see that C has no chance and B would be the clear favorite.

    The chart scales to as many factions as you need it to. And like I mentioned, its a really quick and easy way to do the mechanics behind lots of roleplaying actions or activities. Just assign a value , plus or minus, to things that happen in your campaign to various factions, and alter the numbers on the chart accordingly.
  • Baalshamon
    Posts: 585
    If you look around and download a torrent of the Star Trek the Next Generation RPG by last unicorn games, you will find a great section on how to run a diplomatic/political game. Star Trek as a whole is set up to be a game that rewards politics, diplomacy, and negotiation. It is a great resource for such activities in other game settings.

    In addition I woul look at 7th Sea. Another game that offers great political intrigue but this one is set in an Alternate Earth during the age of pirates. Good luck with your campaign.

    "Star Trek Late Night":
  • Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    bq. I completely agree with having a lot of things happening "behind the scenes" and also suggest mapping out some events timelines that happen whether or not the PC's are involved in them, so the world actually revolves without their direct involvement.

    Worth repeating.

    Intrigue and politicking are a very big part of my campaign - the court of Louis XIII is riven by factions within factions. At the macro scale there are the _d
  • anstett
    Posts: 7
    One small thing to add. As adventurers who tend to get into scrapes the player characters are likely to be taken for a group of mercenaries. You should have a bit of background on how to handle those interactions.

    All politically powerful families will hire mercenaries at some point, no reason for the players to miss out on making a small profit. Or as the case recently in my group they were hired to stay out of a conflict.

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