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I am looking for a fairly structured approach to creating, preparing for, and running a political game.

To be more precise, I am looking for the following:

  1. A structured approach or even a game structure, by which I mean that there should be explicit procedures for starting the game, preparing for it on a session-by-session scale, and actually running it.
  2. By a political game I mean one in which large part of the action consists of communication, and in particular deciding what to tell, to whom, and when, and how to communicate it so as to control who knows of the communication, and so on. In particular, I am not looking for social conflict systems or systems to run a country with. The scope of the game could be anything from intergalactic to tribal/office/familial politics.
  3. Player choices and skill in making them should matter, in that different player actions lead to different consequences, and the actions of players determine, in part, the direction the game should go to. In particular, the GM should not have to make arbitrary or story-based (dramatist) decisions on what given non-player characters do, but should rather use procedure and established personalities, goals, etc. of the characters to make such decisions. (This is why I call this a sandbox game.)
  4. The player characters might or might not co-operate, and the decision should be up to the players, and could change as play happens.
  5. Ideally the game should be scalable, so that it could be started with a smallish number of characters and the cast should be expandable as play happens, if that is desired.

I expect I will have to design the game by myself, so all of the following would be useful:

  • A game that does this or something similar.
  • Procedures that would fit within such a game.
  • Descriptions or theories of political processes that could inspire the game structures I will presumably have to design. This is somewhat out-of-scope for this SE, so please focus on other matters and if resources like this spring to mind, then a mere link is enough, with possible commentary on how easy it would be to use the resource as a game design aid.

A related question: How do you run a political campaign?

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EDITS:

For a similar kind of structure elsewhere, consider the OSR-style sandbox with dungeons.

Preparation for the campaign means building part of the sandbox map and a dungeon or two, and stocking them, building leads to them, etc. There are various procedures for these things.

Preparation for a session means re-stocking the dungeons, considering how factions and major characters react (they are usually limited in number), and updating dungeon keys and random encounter charts.

In play there is rolling for random encounters, navigation, and keeping track of resources.

Or, in my Amber game, preparation consists mostly of deciding what every NPC is doing and maybe figuring out a scene or two that could spring from their actions. In play I give players scenes they drive their characters into, as well as the prepared scenes which I tick off as the game progresses. (Other parts I improvise, pretty much, since I don't have or don't need more structure.)

I don't know of any such structures that would support running a political game (as defined above, in 2. and 3.).

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Are you aware of the Amber RPG? –  Sardathrion Jun 28 '13 at 10:16
    
@Sardathrion Yes, but I find it lacks the structure I would like, namely point 1. in the question. –  Thanuir Jun 28 '13 at 10:27
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You could use a reskinned version of Stars Without Number's faction system for part of it, especially since the PDF is free. –  Dakeyras Jun 28 '13 at 16:41
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3 Answers

While I understand you are not looking for a conflict system, usually political manuevers take place on top of some conflict - resource grab, prestige and so on. There are few games I would like to suggest which you can take a look at.

Houses of the Blooded has an abstract domain system, in which you control regions, and each region you would have to appoint various vassals. The game is divided into 4 seasons per year, and each season you can assign actions to your vassals. Naturally, the actions you can assign, and the number of vassals you can have, depend on your stats.

You can lift a few ideas from Houses of the Blooded. First, you would need to define the entities the players are going to communicate with. Those entities would have their own agendas, skills, assets and secrets. Second, you would need to define the each PCs' relationship with those entities. Third, you would need to have an action economy.

  • What is one turn? For HoTB, it is a season
  • How much can you do in one turn? HoTB uses a stat to determine the actions you can have, plus other factors (having a spouse, for instance)
  • What can you do in one turn, and what are the costs? HoTB defines various actions, also defines various costs. There are material goods (lumber), exotic goods and good old fashion wealth. You could also have influence or information as resource too, depending on how abstract you would it to be.

A lot of games with a "meta-game" consider those factors. Ars Magica, for instance, requires you to need various types of personnel in your covenant, breaks the game into seasons, has resources in form of raw mana, and encourage players to define their relationships with the local lords, surrounding villages and so on.

Another sources of idea you can look at are board games. Here are a few that comes to mind:

  • Kingsburg: There are various political character on the board and each round you try to influence them to get something. Only 1 player can influence a character at time, and basically this how it is done. Every season, all players roll 3d6. Every character on the board is numbered, from 1 to 18. To influence a character who is number 7, you need to spend dice that sums up to 7 (a 2+5, or 6+1). Using this a RPG idea, perhaps you define the characters, and each may need a skill challenge to succeed in influencing, and it is done in a round robin manner, so players have to prioritize which figure they want to go to. You could flesh out each political character with goals and beliefs - perhaps using Aspects from Fate, bonds from Dungeon World, or relationships from WoTG to guide the interaction. They can also be their own characters (as a NPC).

  • Troyes: There are three main factions in the game - the nobles, church and merchants, and you need to assign pawns to those factions to determine the resources you have (in this case, dice). If you assign three pawns to the nobles, you get to roll 3 noble dices, and use those to get resources or acquire properties/characters. In a RPG context, those pawns which you can assign could be agents, and depending on allocation, gives the player certain benefits/perks/role-playing advantages. An agent assigned to a foreign land can be a diplomat, and thus improving your influence rolls with anyone from that land. So having agents in a faction maybe will allow you to take actions with/against that faction. It could be considered as a skill, like "Diplomatic Relationships with Lannister +5" or maybe as an Aspect, depending on the underlying mechanics you have in mind.

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-1: I am specifically not looking for a conflict system. Does HotB, Ars magica, etc. have guidelines or procedures for creating political conflicts, for keeping the actions of factions or persons consistent and somewhat predictable, or other such material that provides a framework for the conflicts? Those might be interesting. –  Thanuir Jun 28 '13 at 9:59
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Suggest that you take a look at my suggestions about defining characters with relationships/bonds and the structuring of actions used by board games which I gave in the second half. Hotb uses Aspects to define relationships, if that helps. –  Extrakun Jun 28 '13 at 15:08
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Dresden Files RPG

The Dresden Files RPG has structures for creating a city with competing factions on several axes.

Once your city is constructed, it has systems for using aspects of characters and the city to create scenarios.

Whether it is a political game is in large part determined by whether you create a politically charged city or not. But if you do, you can use the structures provided to create political scenarios.

There is a step by step description of how to use the resources you've created to build a scenario, so I think it qualifies as a game structure as far as I understand the term.

There is no reason the excellent city creation methods couldn't be adapted easily to other scales and / or genres. Similarly, the scenario creation methods could be applied to other than modern cities.

In fact, these things are made explicitly generic in Fate Core, but I'm not as familiar with those systems yet.

EDIT: It occurred to me that I may have written up a structured approach for this type of game in this answer already. Scroll down to the section about Who, Wants, So. It contains a step-by-step method for turning a situation into a scenario. This may be exactly what you are asking for when you ask for a method that will:

use procedure and established personalities, goals, etc. of the characters to make such decisions.

I have actually used this method in several politically charged campaigns - though in Dresden Files, they usually resulted more in action than in moving information around.

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First, set up a Conflict Web. Start by setting up your factions that are involved, and why they are competing/conflicting. This is more to give you a set of motivations for any given group, leaders, etc. and allow you to simply improvise based on the group's needs/ambitions.

The Conflict Web is not static, it's a starting point. So you may easily see characters shift alliances or make temporary truces to accomplish goals.

Second, once you situate the PCs into the scenario, look at their goals, and likely problems they will face in terms of Logistics and Politics. This is effectively similar to how Apocalypse World produces "Fronts".

After each session, look at what the PCs attempted, who was affected, whether any NPC groups made major moves and figure out who is going to react and how. You can choose to update either the Conflict Web or the Logistics & Politics list, though I usually find myself only having to do serious updates after 3-6 sessions because it's relatively easy to track what happened with simple notes.

Both of these tools can scale up or down, so you can do intergalactic empire politics or the 28 guys stuck in a prison together, based on whatever fits your campaign.

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