Sources of political intrigue

James Trotta

Spellsword
Diversity Committee
One thing that I like in LARPs is political intrigue. What intrigue do we have in different chapters and how do we get more?

In our Alliance games, it always seemed to me that chapters with the more rigid nobility have less intrigue. If there are no political factions, there's less politics.

In my experience Vampire LARPs were always good for intrigue as players tried to increase influence, thwart other clans, and gain power within their own clan. We don't really have influence like they do in Vampire, but we can do things like houses or guilds with different interests. We can also have players competing for positions within each guild or house.

What have you seen work or what ideas could work to bring more intrigue into the game?
 

B.Barber

Scholar
Well. Heres the thing so far as ive seen. The game itself is not super well set up to support that kind of play (old vampire player here too, so this is comparatively speaking). Its baaaasically on the shoulders of wahtever plot team is in charge to create and to a degree enforce, the social infrastructure necessary for courtly style politics and thats going to vary huuuuugely from chapter to chapter. Not a bad thing, just nature of the beast.

Social style intrigue plots (as we know them) seem to have a hard time in this system largely due to social and cultural differences inherent in the playstyle. The Mechanics of the system really only support combative persuits in one flavor or another so machivellian maneuvering is not strong on this one's force- however, that said, potential points of political intrigue that can exist in the game, so far as I have seen are: Positional rivalries, jockying for political and mundane power (different realms), Maneuvering around and through conflicts due to competition for mechanical resources, Economic struggles, love triangles (and more corners), and the basic kind of politicking you see on the school playground.

For context, this is coming out of a game in wich we have, out of the player-base of characters, 4 major government houses (Baronial Courts, run and populated by PCs. then a bunch of NPCs over their heads), 3 main guilds (mages, healers and mechants- NPCs at the heads of these, then PC populated), 2 houses/groups of non-government stripe (Pc run and created), And 2 or 3 almost-guilds/ houses (pc run and created)

The baronial courts bicker among themselves, but we're running into conflicts with plot not entirely giving all the infrastructure needed for meaningful results from that and it been hit and miss trying to do anything with the NPC courts out there in the persuit of plots presented in that area. Theres a lot of confusion and frustration because this style of politics in the game right now- its there, but theres a disjoint between it, the players and plot atm. Its geting better tho.

The guilds are doing good (or appear to be anyway), they have their pecking orders and people jocky for rank. They also seem to bicker a little bit among themselves over certain economic things or policies. some of this feeds back into the baronial houses.

The non-baronial houses go about their business, mostly classic adventurer styles. Most of their politics comes from competition for resources and some resent for the baronial courts, so theres different social political conflicts going on with that right now.

And the almost-guilds are mostly doing your day-to-day survival stuff right now, making freinds or avoiding trouble. Trying to grow themselves here and there. Beginner politics, but again mostly your classic adventurer-styles.

And theres a good number of non-grouped people who bring their own dynamics to things.

So its mostly your vanilla social games, on-the-ground and PC powered.

What could bring MORE to the game, would be more set mechanics that are supportive of social gaming, a stronger emphasis on how game-world social structures work (and communication to everyone, clearly, on waht those are, whatever they are chapter to chapter) and willingness of plot teams to put the work into manageing that kind of intricate stuff. So consistency, record keeping, checking in, bringing down repercussions AND rewards, and following up thouroughly with PC actions during and between games. Making effort, secrets, discretion and guile matter, essentially.

Also, tangible things for characters to want, and to gun for, are important, because motivation and that motivation conflicting with other peoples motivation, is key to intrigue. Power, toys, revenge, loyalty (not exactly the same as power!), money, reputation, honor, achieving results or effects on something- al good examples.
 
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Draven

Count
Not all people enjoy political intrigue games. I, for one, abhor them, which is probably why I tend to find World of Darkness games to be fairly boring, and lean towards combat-centric, anti-political characters.

If some players wanted to really get some politcking on, I guess what I'd suggest, if Plot really wanted to encourage it, would be "Politic Days." I'd say it would be like a Faire Day, only without any blankets awarded. There'd be no combat, no loot, it would be 100% RP. Plot could use the results of the RP to influence the following event.

Naturally, this assumes there'd be no breaking of bylaws, but I can't imagine why it would.
 

James Trotta

Spellsword
Diversity Committee
Thank you for replying.
rewards, and following up thouroughly with PC actions during and between games. Making effort, secrets, discretion and guile matter, essentially.

Also, tangible things for characters to want, and to gun for, are important, because motivation and that motivation conflicting with other peoples motivation, is key to intrigue. Power, toys, revenge, loyalty (not exactly the same as power!), money, reputation, honor, achieving results or effects on something- al good examples.

I think rewards is a big one actually. In the chapters with the least intrigue basically the non-loot rewards are noble titles. And noble titles don't seem to come from subterfuge or intrigue.

I don't know if I support changing the rules to promote social intrigue. A wise man once said "You shouldn't have to spend build to roleplay." Similarly, we shouldn't need rules to help us roleplay political intrigue - in a perfect world we would only need story and atmosphere.

Not all people enjoy political intrigue games. I, for one, abhor them, which is probably why I tend to find World of Darkness games to be fairly boring, and lean towards combat-centric, anti-political characters.

If some players wanted to really get some politcking on, I guess what I'd suggest, if Plot really wanted to encourage it, would be "Politic Days." I'd say it would be like a Faire Day, only without any blankets awarded. There'd be no combat, no loot, it would be 100% RP. Plot could use the results of the RP to influence the following event.

I don't see why you would need two different events. I don't see the advantage to relegating intrigue to a no combat, no loot, no xp game. Such a game sounds system driven rather than story driven. And the system probably would not appeal to many players.

I think there are advantages to having combat and intrigue possibilities at every normal event - appeal to more playstyles, provide different paths toward treasure and power, and give players more choices for character development. There should be lots of characters that don't like subterfuge, but having cool roleplay opportunities for the payers that do want to scheme and conspire should add more depth to the game.
 

B.Barber

Scholar
Quote: 'I don't know if I support changing the rules to promote social intrigue. A wise man once said "You shouldn't have to spend build to roleplay." Similarly, we shouldn't need rules to help us roleplay political intrigue - in a perfect world we would only need story and atmosphere.'


oh, nono I dont mean anything like that, you are absolutely right, there should be no xp spent just to roleplay, I simply meant things like making mind powers or investigative powers more meaningful, so theres more reliable means of manipulating people (more than straightup roleplay would give), or finding out secrets or more potent means of social leverage available (and to be hidden from, making people have to be more clever)... so that theres some additional mechanical help in social fighting- like how there are eviserates, dodges and etcetera for physical fighters. The way I see it, thats one way how it would have to be done, to give it the same 'ooph' in this kind of system, that other aspects of the game have. Cause it isnt a perfect world so in working with what we have, thats just what I see. You cant say no to a combat call unless you have a mechanical counter to it, likewise, I think there should be something useful in other aspects that cant simply be said no to. For example, if mind powers really meant anything, but were simply very expensive and locked down: doing something shadey? that character doin the dirty deed dirt cheap had better be good at lieing, and not be suspicious in order to avoid someone paying off that biata in the corner to go through his head because then he really is screwed and so is his client. Createing a need for double-blind transactions, createing a need for greater caution, createing a new niche for totally non combative characters. Because right now, the various mind-altering potions out there only go so far.

Or, as another example: What if skills like torture really meant something?
 
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Muir

Fighter
Honestly, I don't expect political intrigue at Alliance games because our system is set up to discourage it. The only skills that matter are the ones on the card, which are by their nature all combat based. We are mandated by the book to have feudal monarchies with at least a few specific laws such as necromancy being illegal.

But at the end of the day, the killer is power disparity. The local King Of Town has to be powerful enough that the high-level PC's (and the threats scaled to them) can't roll the local nobility up as an afternoon project and declare themselves to be in charge. Which means that unless those powerful characters are majorly interested in formenting social discord, it simply isn't going to happen in any meaningful manner.
 

B.Barber

Scholar
Intrigue does not necessarily mean encouraging overthrow or destruction of a system or government or set of leadership. A smart player knows systems create frameworks to use, loopholes to abuse, and a steady set of rules that make things easy to predict- that feudal monarchy is a totally viable solid structure for intrigue to work within and never actually touch the leadership or stability of a region. Its just the playing board- and in general if you are a good actor (liar)Intrigue is really just about manipulating other characters and getting what you want with the primary goal of not being caught doing or or not being caught as the head of the project... its... omg fun... honestly I pitty the big sheet that meets the savvy new player that makes the right freinds any day hah : 3

So in that respect, there is quite a lot of it possible in the game, it just isnt encouraged as a matter of sorta...game culture I guess? and not facilitated in an offical mechanical means- unless a local game builds 'after-market' content to work with.
 
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Muir

Fighter
See, maybe it's a bit different where you play, but I've generally experienced that players consider anything that walks and is played by an NPC to be a pinata full of loot, to be beaten until it falls out. Games tend to staff for that, because hey, if combat's what most of the playerbase is looking for, it's really easy to send out the very limited stock of NPCs in tabards with claws to entertain a bunch of people without having to keep track of subtle machinations third-hand so as to follow them up in a month when we get together again.
 

Cedric

Rogue
Marshal
I think in Denver there isn't that automatic reaction that monsters are piñatas of loot (thankfully).
 

B.Barber

Scholar
See, maybe it's a bit different where you play, but I've generally experienced that players consider anything that walks and is played by an NPC to be a pinata full of loot, to be beaten until it falls out. Games tend to staff for that, because hey, if combat's what most of the playerbase is looking for, it's really easy to send out the very limited stock of NPCs in tabards with claws to entertain a bunch of people without having to keep track of subtle machinations third-hand so as to follow them up in a month when we get together again.

Correct! our playerbase at the start was a very very large contingent of WOD players and heavy roleplayers- very very high interested in roleplay, very slow 'killit nao' response- constantly trying to find (and happily succeeding in many situations!) means OTHER than fighting things to get around problems and power an economy... heh... yeah we are trying to figure out how to make a less murder-based economy... so yeah we're the odkids out on this one : 3
 

Polare

Count
Muir said:
Honestly, I don't expect political intrigue at Alliance games because our system is set up to discourage it. The only skills that matter are the ones on the card, which are by their nature all combat based. We are mandated by the book to have feudal monarchies with at least a few specific laws such as necromancy being illegal.

But at the end of the day, the killer is power disparity. The local King Of Town has to be powerful enough that the high-level PC's (and the threats scaled to them) can't roll the local nobility up as an afternoon project and declare themselves to be in charge. Which means that unless those powerful characters are majorly interested in formenting social discord, it simply isn't going to happen in any meaningful manner.

See, maybe it's a bit different where you play, but I've generally experienced that players consider anything that walks and is played by an NPC to be a pinata full of loot, to be beaten until it falls out. Games tend to staff for that, because hey, if combat's what most of the playerbase is looking for, it's really easy to send out the very limited stock of NPCs in tabards with claws to entertain a bunch of people without having to keep track of subtle machinations third-hand so as to follow them up in a month when we get together again.

Your experience is quite different than I've seen in the multiple chapters I've played in. In my experience, an NPC noble *doesn't* need to be super-powerful. In fact, I'd say most of the positions of power that I've seen held by NPCs have been held by (relatively) low-level combat cards. When the PCs are shown that the nobles deserve respect (through whatever means, whether it be political intrigue, an intangible aura of leadership/command, or simply by being the source of valuable plot information), they protect the NPCs from other PCs should it become necessary.

In the majority of campaigns I've played in that have an established nobility structure held by NPCs, any PCs who tried to "roll the local nobility up as an afternoon project" would get slapped down by other PCs faster than by NPC guards or muscle.

Many of my favorite Alliance campaigns and story arcs have been driven by political intrigue. There is at times combat involved in one way or another, sure, but not as the primary goal (and often none is involved at all). The scheming to gain the Count's favor over the other Pages/Heralds who are trying to rise in rank, the behind-the-scenes dirty deeds executed for the sole purpose of making another PC or NPC take the blame, the planting or hiding of incriminating evidence... These are some of my all-time favorite plot mechanisms, and I'm sorry that you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing them in Alliance. They most certainly *do* exist in the game, in many chapters, without the rules or character cards getting in the way.

-Bryan
 

Inaryn

Knight
I would be utterly bored with the game if loot pinatas were the only thing to it.

One of my favorite moments was with my old character, who was the guildmistress of the earth guild. Having basically the town mayor and magistrate having a screaming fit at each other in my guild hall, and tossing them *both* out on their keesters because I was fed up with it... only to have the entire pc base outside listening to them.

Political intrigue is *absolutely* part of the game, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
 

James Trotta

Spellsword
Diversity Committee
Thank you for the ideas everyone. I picked a couple to quote but enjoyed all the comments in this thread.
Honestly, I don't expect political intrigue at Alliance games because our system is set up to discourage it. The only skills that matter are the ones on the card, which are by their nature all combat based. We are mandated by the book to have feudal monarchies with at least a few specific laws such as necromancy being illegal.

But at the end of the day, the killer is power disparity. The local King Of Town has to be powerful enough that the high-level PC's (and the threats scaled to them) can't roll the local nobility up as an afternoon project and declare themselves to be in charge. Which means that unless those powerful characters are majorly interested in formenting social discord, it simply isn't going to happen in any meaningful manner.

Hi Muir. I think what you describe is what happens when the NPC nobles are all on the same side. Since there is only one side, almost every player joins that side. Doesn't matter if I like Noble X or Noble Z. They all mean the same thing. If the NPC nobles all hated each other, things could be different.

Your experience is quite different than I've seen in the multiple chapters I've played in. In my experience, an NPC noble *doesn't* need to be super-powerful. In fact, I'd say most of the positions of power that I've seen held by NPCs have been held by (relatively) low-level combat cards. When the PCs are shown that the nobles deserve respect (through whatever means, whether it be political intrigue, an intangible aura of leadership/command, or simply by being the source of valuable plot information), they protect the NPCs from other PCs should it become necessary.

In the majority of campaigns I've played in that have an established nobility structure held by NPCs, any PCs who tried to "roll the local nobility up as an afternoon project" would get slapped down by other PCs faster than by NPC guards or muscle.
I think there has been variety in the east. The last game on the east coast I was at, we didn't see any NPC nobles. But 5+ years ago, the big NPC noble I met in the NJ chapter didn't seem too much of a combat character. But Duke Frost in Ashbury could probably have taken out half the town (the half that didn't run away) when I was in Ashbury 15 years ago. In the old MD chapter, the NPC nobles were powerful but there were 12 houses (something like that) and you could try to win favor with one by working against the others.

Speaking of the old MD chapter and their houses...

One of my favorite alliance moments came when another PC was scheduled to be executed and I made a deal with one of the houses to prevent the execution. That was cool cause there was no combat solution. But through RP I got to be the hero. At least to that one guy. The people who wanted him dead would have had some issues with me if they found out I helped the guy escape execution.

One of my uncool moments (but still a funny one) came when I went to join the potion selling house. All my character wanted to do was sell potions - I had a potion store (pay 25 gold and buy potions for production cost) and everything. So after the interview they said to join you have to send another adventurer to the healer's guild :eek: I couldn't do that so I didn't feel like a stud that day. After that I knew their secret and wasn't a member so they were gong to send their assassins after me. I think the chapter closed before they got too many attempts in but I remember at least one pair of assassins coming after me.
 

Muir

Fighter
Thank you for the ideas everyone. I picked a couple to quote but enjoyed all the comments in this thread.

Hi Muir. I think what you describe is what happens when the NPC nobles are all on the same side. Since there is only one side, almost every player joins that side. Doesn't matter if I like Noble X or Noble Z. They all mean the same thing. If the NPC nobles all hated each other, things could be different.

There's been a bit of that too, but I'm deeply cynical. Generally intrigue seems to boil down to waiting for Antagonist NPC Noble A to reveal that they're in league with some outside force/literally a monster and then having the Saturday night town fight against them and/or their proxies.

I'll fully admit that some of my view is likely because I don't interact with those stories as much as I could. As someone who is perennially playing a low-mid level character without sufficient gear to be a force to scale against, and a travelling player no matter what chapter he happens to be at, long term plot doesn't often fall my way because plot teams can't really bet on me getting time off for the next event. :rolleyes:

I'd like more subtle stories, because the thing I'm really most interested in getting out of playing the game is continuity, immersion, and the impression that my character's actions make an actual difference in the world. That's a level of subtlety that I don't honestly expect to get all the time out of a busy and usually strapped for people NPC camp with 30-40 other players to entertain as well.

PC factions competing politically would be nice to see, but too often that leads to cliques, and hoarding information, and generally creates more difficulty in getting plot hooks out. So it may not be a net positive.

Thank you for the ideas everyone. I picked a couple to quote but enjoyed all the comments in this thread.
Speaking of the old MD chapter and their houses...

One of my favorite alliance moments came when another PC was scheduled to be executed and I made a deal with one of the houses to prevent the execution. That was cool cause there was no combat solution. But through RP I got to be the hero. At least to that one guy. The people who wanted him dead would have had some issues with me if they found out I helped the guy escape execution.

One of my uncool moments (but still a funny one) came when I went to join the potion selling house. All my character wanted to do was sell potions - I had a potion store (pay 25 gold and buy potions for production cost) and everything. So after the interview they said to join you have to send another adventurer to the healer's guild :eek: I couldn't do that so I didn't feel like a stud that day. After that I knew their secret and wasn't a member so they were gong to send their assassins after me. I think the chapter closed before they got too many attempts in but I remember at least one pair of assassins coming after me.

I think the best opportunity like that I've ever had was back in Chicago circa 2009. I was playing my Gypsy, as part of a group who were written to be conscripts who defected from the Empire next door, and we got into a fight with some NPCs who were other soldiers sent to bring us back. It went off the rails for the NPCs a bit because what was intended to be a fishbowl ended up with us fighting to disable them and convincing them to fake their deaths and defect as well. That was fun!
 
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Simon

Adept
One of the biggest risks with running social intrigue plot is that the decisions on success or failure have to do with convincing NPC's of ideas or trying to line up the thousands of things that can never be repped to your end point. So much of what goes into it is subjective that there is a gripping fear of accusations of favoritism etc. I mean, you did make your case or didn't make your case, and oh by the way there might be people on the other end of negotiations doing things out of sight no one lese knows about and then feelings get hurt. Point is, that it is messy, where as combat resolutions are up front and straight forward. Just pointing out a challenge.

Joe S.
 

B.Barber

Scholar
But not all social intrigue need necessarily involve NPCs. What I think some folks are missing is that this kind of thin can be entirely motivated by and in PC hands, but the right incentives have to be in place to fuel those motivations. It is essentially a form of pvp- well, can be anyway.
 

MaxIrons

Knight
Marshal
Ultimately it's the best form of PvP in my opinion, but it's also very tricky to pull off to where it's at the forefront, and can be just as divisive if not handled properly. I've seen it done well and had a hand in a weekend plot line that included it. The easiest way to do it is to provide a real choice to the PCs, where there are at least two viable answers, and they aren't weighted too heavily one way or the other. Then you just let it go and the PCs have big discussions, big decisions, and sometimes, big fights (verbal or combative).
 

Kasuni

Squire
Ultimately it's the best form of PvP in my opinion, but it's also very tricky to pull off to where it's at the forefront, and can be just as divisive if not handled properly. I've seen it done well and had a hand in a weekend plot line that included it. The easiest way to do it is to provide a real choice to the PCs, where there are at least two viable answers, and they aren't weighted too heavily one way or the other. Then you just let it go and the PCs have big discussions, big decisions, and sometimes, big fights (verbal or combative).

To quote this, Ben (above) and the Seattle plot staff pulled this off at our last game (major intrigue!) in a way that I really enjoyed.

Typically, I do not like intrigue because it seems to end up leading to PvP and divisive PC attitudes, which I personally do not enjoy in my game. At the last Seattle event, the plot staff set up a choice for the PCs that had no right answer and no wrong answer - even the vote on the decision was nearly 50/50. It made it so no one had to be the "bad guy".

Long story short, as a result of the last Seattle event, I would say that I enjoy intrigue so long as it doesn't pit PCs against one another.

Emily
 

B.Barber

Scholar
To quote this, Ben (above) and the Seattle plot staff pulled this off at our last game (major intrigue!) in a way that I really enjoyed.

Typically, I do not like intrigue because it seems to end up leading to PvP and divisive PC attitudes, which I personally do not enjoy in my game. At the last Seattle event, the plot staff set up a choice for the PCs that had no right answer and no wrong answer - even the vote on the decision was nearly 50/50. It made it so no one had to be the "bad guy".

Long story short, as a result of the last Seattle event, I would say that I enjoy intrigue so long as it doesn't pit PCs against one another.

Emily


You like intrigue, you just dont like pvp ( the two dont always go hand in hand). Ive always gotten a vibe in alliance, and to me it is weird, that a large number of people fairly closely associate their actual selves, with their character, and this is part of what seems to make conflict between characters and pvp (social or physical, or any stripe) a bit of a dirty word because it gets too real to quik or so thats the impression I get. Is this the case or is there something else I am missing? Its an alien mindset to me- I come from a basically all pvp background with wod materials.
 

Kasuni

Squire
You like intrigue, you just dont like pvp ( the two dont always go hand in hand). Ive always gotten a vibe in alliance, and to me it is weird, that a large number of people fairly closely associate their actual selves, with their character, and this is part of what seems to make conflict between characters and pvp (social or physical, or any stripe) a bit of a dirty word because it gets too real to quik or so thats the impression I get. Is this the case or is there something else I am missing? Its an alien mindset to me- I come from a basically all pvp background with wod materials.

That's a good observation - I guess I do like intrigue, but not PVP. I think that it's more that for me, the funnest part of Alliance is working with a team - be it the smaller house my character is a part of or the whole town. The highlights of my events are hanging out in the tavern playing cards with people or pulling off crazy combat feats that take a large number of people - this last event we rounded up all the celestialists mid-fight and managed to Prison + Extend Battle Magic on the big bad. I feel like some of that is harder to get if there is PVP going on.

That's just my experience though - I like my conflict to come from NPCs :)
 
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