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Yesterday in my new game of Dungeon World we determined that we are in a great empire under attack by hordes of goblins and as I was taking note of this, I realized I have no clue how to effectively demonstrate the consequences of this in day to day activities. Here are the key aspects of this conflict:

  • It's been long enough for everybody to be aware of it even with a huge territory
  • The Emperor is getting paranoid and created a group of loyal servants to find potential traitors
  • The group is not interested in getting involved directly with the conflict

So my question is basically: what would be the effects of the extended major conflict on the people and how would it affect the adventurers?

Note: Even though my campaign seems to be heavily inspired by Warhammer, I'm not looking for answers related to Warhammer specifically. I want general advice on how to cover the consequences of large scale conflict over a long period of time.

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Just a resource: I found Heroes of Battle for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 to be a useful source book. Much of it is D&D rules that you (presumably) won't use, but much of it is just about how an active war affects adventuring, about what the battlefield is like as a "dungeon." –  KRyan Mar 12 at 13:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 22 down vote accepted

There's a huge list of possibilities. The easiest place to draw from is historical effects of wars in human history. For starters, here's one about the US Civil War. Any good historical source for a war will give you things to work with, though.

Let's look at a few specific issues that may crop up:

Travel Restrictions

During wartime, especially with a paranoid leadership, travel restrictions are normal. Fear of the "other" grows. If the party doesn't look like they belong in the empire in question, they will get harassed by soldiers and shunned by civilians. If they have official paperwork (or good forgeries), they will be able to get past the soldiers at least.

If they look like they fit in, or have a reputation for heroic acts for the empire, they won't have the same problems.

Impeded Movement

On top of official travel restrictions, movement in areas affected by the war is just plain more difficult. Ground is chewed up and turned into mud by army camps, bridges may be destroyed to stop an advancing force, soldiers may be up in trees shooting anybody not on their side, and so on.

Internment & Deportations

If one of them happens to have some Goblin in his lineage, he's facing a risk of being deported entirely, or thrown into an internment camp. This happens indiscriminately based on race.

Refugees & Empty Land

Since your empire is surrounded by Goblins and at war, it's likely there are fights around the border, and raids into nearby territory. That territory is going to be abandoned by most civilians. Farmland will lie fallow (and be trampled by armies), food will be sized to feed those armies, and the land will generally be stripped bare. Anybody staying in the area runs the risk of being collateral damage. If the civilians happen to be encountered by soldiers of the other side, war crimes are entirely possible.

That means for the PCs working in that territory, supplies will be harder to scavenge from the land. There won't be anybody selling anything, and there won't be easy game hunting. They could be attacked at any time, or confronted by a hungry army and have their things confiscated.

Deeper in the empire, there will be refugees that have to be dealt with somehow. In the best case scenario, they will be taken in and cared for. In a worse scenario, they'll be put in camps on the outskirts of existing settlements and have to fend for themselves. If not properly managed, crime can get very bad in these places.

Disease

Both armies and refugee camps often have disease problems, due to so many people being close together and the difficulty of maintaining proper hygiene in war conditions (and the general lack of sanitation in many poorly run refugee camps).

If the PCs stay away from both of those things this will impact them less than it will impact the general population, but a population afraid of an epidemic isn't going to be as welcoming to random people coming into town like the PCs. If they deal with soldiers or refugees at all, the disease risk is very real.

Conscription & Demographics

Is the empire low on soldiers? If so, the PCs may simply get conscripted into the army, under penalty of execution.

If this is a large war that has been going a while, there are demographic impacts to that. The bulk of a big army is young men. That has impacts at home, as you have a shortage of young men. That impacts everything from trying to start a family (there are a lot more women then men) to gender roles in society (female labour became more acceptable in the West because of a lack of men to do the jobs). Children may also be required to start work below the age of what is commonly regarded as acceptable if labour shortages become critical.

Good news if the PCs happen to be looking for wives. Bad news if they're looking for husbands, or to hire male workers for pretty much any purpose.

Equipment Price Inflation

During major wars, resources are redirected towards military purposes. While some things will be still available, prices go up and some things simply can't be legally obtained at any price. If the PCs need to get armor made and all the metal has been provisioned for military use... they either have to go to the black market or are just out of luck.

This can cover a huge variety of supplies, including metal, leather, food, wood, and pretty much anything else that's not unlimited and has a military use. Expertise is also limited, as people capable of making weapons & armor are going to be pulled in for military production first. The bigger scale the war is, the more this will be a problem for the PCs.(A minor border conflict won't be a big deal, but they will find it extremely difficult to operate if the empire is bending it's primary resources on the war).

And More

This is not an exhaustive list, because so many wars have caused so many different consequences that listing them all here is impossible. What you'll want to do is figure out how major the war is, and then apply various problems for the PCs appropriately to that.

The really important thing is that it can't just be business as usual. They can't go around doing whatever they want as if no war is going on at all, because everybody else around them is being affected by it. Even if they don't want to get involved in it personally, it's going to come to them in some way.

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One of the most noticeable things will be how resources are being diverted towards the war effort.

  • Conscription: Anyone of fighting age (and possibly gender, if appropriate to the setting) is a target for being drafted into the militia/army. Settlements are going to be the older members of society, often attempting to do jobs they're no longer physically suitable for. Lots of opportunities here for the adventurers to get involved helping out (especially if there's now far fewer guards on duty able to keep the various things from the wilderness away from the town walls, because they've been diverted to the front lines.) You also may need to ask the question - why have the characters not been conscripted? Do they need to buy their way out of conscription? - this is often an option, as money is needed to fight wars just as much as people are.

    • Which leads to: Suspicion: Depending on the eligibility of the adventurers themselves, people may get a little suspicious of why they're not off fighting the war. Are they cowards, or even worse - enemy spies? Those loyal servants of the emperor are likely to get a tip-off to come check on this group of "adventurers" that has wandered into town.
  • Resources: An army needs to be fed, and that means diverting food stocks to the front line. Given that a lot of the young farm hands are now fighting the war, there's also less food being grown. Shortages can hit town, and that's going to affect prices or whether there's any food for sale to strangers at all. The same will be true of equipment - anyone capable of working with metal has also likely been diverted to work making weapons and armor for the army, the town may well be without a blacksmith. Good luck finding a new sword. Anyone making potions or scrolls is also likely to now be working for the state (either paid willingly, or simply told to do their duty or face execution as a traitor.)

  • Restrictions on movement: People may be required to have travel papers in order to cross borders or enter walled settlements. They may need permission to leave, too. Not only does this directly affect the adventurers, but there's numerous adventure hooks here smuggling goods and/or people in and out of areas (not necessarily an evil thing, people could be starving or separated from their relatives.)

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History is, as usual, your best port of call. The Thirty Years War is a good place to look for the effect of a long conflict that spans a (once) great Empire. Wikipedia and Britanica have pages you can look at for a general over view. However, your situation might call for more of Timur or Genghis Khan's wars of conquest.

Now, without writing a book about the effects of war, there are a few things that will happen:

  • Refugees: People will flee the front lines.
  • Famine: Because there is looting, mass population movement, there will not be enough people growing/herding food. Thus black market, famine, and hunger.
  • Disease: Large amount of population compressed in small spaces, vast migration, not enough food, no concept of sanitation... Need I say more?
  • Banditry: The easiest way to survive is to take what you need. Screw the rest, they should have fought harder.
  • Inflation: Every good will be getting rarer so prices will go up.
  • Press gangs: Forced conscription will take place all over the land.
  • SMERSH: (Специальные Методы Разоблaчения Шпионов) or SMERt'SH "Death to spies!", the internal police on the lookout for spies, traitors, and heretics.
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For me, the main inspiration of such a long and large scale war is the First World War. The war is massive and huge, the resources are shipped to there in huge quantities and the war is more of a battle on the citizens themselves with their economies as the real targets. The changes to society, thus, will be huge:

Conscription and its effects

Huge amounts of people will be moved to the military bases and camps where they will be trained to be soldiers. This affects the citizens who are kept in the cities in a bunch of ways:

First of all the people will try to live their lives as normal as they can while trying to make a full use of each and every minute that they are still free from the army. Theaters and the like will be much more successful, with the "costumers" trying to escape from reality through these activities. In the streets people will shrink whenever important figures cross the roads, trying to hide from the call to arms.

Another change will be in the unity of the people. On the positive side, differences between classes of people will shrink as all of them need to help the state for the cause of winning. On the negative side some of the differences will enlarge quickly as the war will continue to rage on, quickening if they will ever start to lose.

Graveyards will be much fuller and new ones will be opened every now and then. At some point, when there will be so many dead bodies, they will start to bury them in group graves, resulting in many visits to the graveyards all days a week and many a tear. Loss will be a huge theme in a world like this one.

Resource allocations and its effects

As more and more of the resources will go to the war, many people will start to starve. The graves will get fuller and fuller by starving people falling dead. It may even get to the point of lines of zombie-like hordes waiting for their daily piece of bread.

Many businesses will close as there are not only less costumers but also far less resources to feed them/serve them/ etc. On the flip side, though, some will grow in strength and become a kind of a gathering place, mainly bars with much alcohol and much escapist shows.

People will start to bribe each other for a bigger amount of food. Others will start to attack people who does have food, or even just steal from them at night or day. People will sleep by their warehouses to keep their food safe from beggars and other troublesome pesky criminals.

Due to all of these things diseases will be much more common in the society, and due to shortages of medicines they will be much more deadly and will turn into plagues and epidemics very very quickly. Diseases will kill even more than the starvation and the war itself combined.

Science and its advancement

In order to make the war shorter the rules will spend their money on trying to invent new technologies which will make them mightier. As each side will try to do that the war will continue to get longer as every advancement will seem like the end is nigh and as such will be embraced gracefully.

Those advancements will also lead to much more deaths ion both sides, resulting in a greater conscription rate. The economies will suffer from that, as the effects of the conscription will get much more prevalent.

Movement limitations

The movement will be limited to some very restricted areas and sometimes it may even be prohibited to leave the limits of the cities. Because of that, less food will come from hunting trips, and it may even result in less food from agriculture, resulting in a greater famine. Adding to that the simple facts that many a farmer may find themselves in the military camps already the famine can become deadly in a matter of days.

This will change drastically if the goblins ever close on a city, as some of them will try to run west to find a new place to live in. This will result in refugee tent camps outside some of the cities with some lucky few who did succeed in securing themselves a place inside the walls of the new ones. More than that, though, those tent camps will vanish each time the enemy closes in as larger and larger amounts of people will move west. If the PCs will be so lucky as to travel those roads east they will start to see ghost towns the further they go east.

Paranoia

It will come with no surprise as they start to lose or even think they're gonna lose that larger and larger amounts of citizens will start to find ways to join the enemy, in order to improve their chances of surviving. This will result in many a citizen locking themselves in their homes due to the fear of being seen by a spy or being spied upon.

Furthermore, mutual convictions will fly all over the place as the "loyal" and loyal people will try to uncover the spies in order to help their side win. This will again also result in people locking themselves in their houses in order to stay clean of such convictions against them. No one wants to be called a spy in times like this; this can be the end of him/her.

And an End

With that, though, I'm gonna finish this answer. It is by no means a definitive list, but I truly believe that it is a start. Hope that helped you a little bit…

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