Saturday, July 12, 2014

Olde School Wizardry: The Political Game

You've been to the Underdark, pounded a dragon or two, and slain more orcs than you can begin to count.  What's the next step?

Politics and realm management of course!  But how to do it?

Adventurer Conqueror King and Mentzer's 1984 D&D Companion Set  help address the establishment and management of a realm, but what about the politics of council meetings, trials, and court intrigue?  I really like the idea of these interactions, but I've never been that satisfied with how I've been able run them in actual play.  Too often the players are relegated to the role of mere spectators (passive or reactive) as the GM spins plates to make various NPCs showboat.

This week, in my Olde School Wizardry homebrew campaign for men with beards, I feel like I made some actual strides in improving my political game.

The main action of our last session revolved around a crisis at The Collegium Mysterium, the world's premier college of wizardry.  Arch Chancellor Weigman Pot and other key members of the college faculty and administration had gone missing, and the player characters met with eight other important wizards to decide what must be done (and how this turn of events might have bearing on their own agendas).

I use NPC cards, as much to help me keep our campaign's sixty or so non-player-characters straight as to help my players.  The cards are just 3x5 index cards with a black and white headshot and a name on the front. 

a young Hugh Laurie plays our Head Librarian,
the competent if somewhat unorthodox Mooly Klips

On the back I record alignment, accent/voice, and any factional affiliations, leaving space to jot down any stats I may need to generate during play.
I placed the cards for our eight key NPCs on the table and we opened with a brief line or two of dialogue from most of them (some directed to the PCs, some to each other) mainly to establish the tone.

Next I stuck a post it to each NPC's card, listing a few keywords relating to his position.
Then we broke scene and assigned each player character a number of influence points.  
  • Each PC received a base of five points, adjusted by his Charisma modifier.  
  • Each point of influence could be spent on the various issues being debated at the meeting, either openly (by making speeches and addressing the room at large) or secretly (reflecting whispered sidebars and one-on-one dialogues).
  • Players could earn additional points during play by openly presenting particularly reasonable, clear, or compelling arguments.  The advantages of spending points in secret were that it permitted for bluffing and could help the characters avoid the in-game consequences of publicly opposing a senior wizard.
  • NPCs also received an allotment of influence points, based on Charisma and their positions (in this case between four and ten points), but these numbers were not shared with the players.

I listed the four core issues being debated, writing each out as a yes or no proposition (e.g. "We should contact the Estates Arcanum and make them aware of the present crisis." or "We should dispatch an official complaint to the Bhatvian Embassy and demand their full cooperation in the recovery of our personnel.").

We then went around the table and each PC and NPC were able to make statements, allocating as many of their influence points as they wished to play openly.  Free-form dialogue followed and, in a final round, PCs and NPCs were invited to role-play through any sidebar conversations to try and sway how other characters spent any secret influence.  Finally I tabulated the results and announced how the room found on each issue.

We found this to be a very satisfactory little subsystem and we'll likely use it again in the future.


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