Politics as an undertone for a Pencil & Paper campaign | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

Politics as an undertone for a Pencil & Paper campaign

Politics work great as an undertone for a pencil & paper (pnp) campaign. They have a real-world base from which your players will draw understanding. They create interesting situations that can involve the PCs directly or indirectly. They usually have several layers to them as well. Not only that, but it's relatively easy to setup.

Players being able to understand what their characters are going through is very important. When a player doesn't understand the situation that his character is in, he is likely to do something that is out of line with the situation. Simply put, he will probably make a mistake. There are 3 major things that help a player understand the situations they get into. They are real-world parallels, GM descriptions, and experience with the system. Since experience takes time, it is important (especially with new players) to describe situations completely, and stick to objective material.

Being able to directly or indirectly affect PCs from the same source is valuable. Political decisions, whether the PCs are involved or not, can affect a large portion of people. One important thing to remember is that in either case, the ability to enforce these changes are important. Any new wave of reform should be followed by an increase of local enforcement (police, etc...). This will die down a while after, until there is another change. However, this usually only applies to the restriction of freedoms, not the removal of old laws. That is usually followed with a behavioral change by citizens.

The amount of different layers a single decision might have can be staggering. A new leader could mandate that all flail owners (random choice) be required to obtain a license to carry a flail in public. On the surface, this could be to appease a fringe group. It could also put pressure on blacksmiths that specialize in flails. It could be a way of tracking flail owners, because most flail owners are clerics of a certain religion. It might be a smokescreen designed to take attention away from a different ruling. It could be all of these.or it could just be a personal bias. Politics are all about shadow games. Hide your true motivations, look good in front of the populace, and try to disgrace your enemies all in one shot.

It's still not that hard to setup either. If you are looking to inject politics into your campaign, just take a couple minutes to think about it. It doesn't need to be complicated, and sometimes you don't even need to fully fill out the details because the PCs will do that as they try to make sense of the situation. Try to involve the PCs in some way, but remember that PCs should be making decisions and taking action, not being pushed aside while NPCs arbitrate new laws. Most PC groups will tend to trust either the first person they meet (of a conflict) or a second person that tries to come clean and seems earnest (ie: The first person lied to you, trust me).