A few friends and I (as game master) are gearing up to start a Fate game set in a society inspired by ancient Greece, with a direct democratic political system.

One of my players wants to play a wealthy merchant transitioning into politics, and has mentioned wanting to use his wealth to buy votes/sway the system.

This sort of thing makes me really uncomfortable because of its effects in real life. I think having a player character pursue this sort of goal would lessen the fun for me as the game master, as it would serve as a constant reminder of the sort of stuff that goes on in real life. It's the sort of thing I would consider an appropriate method for a villain, not a PC.

I don't want to be the moral police and get in the way of him playing a character he enjoys, but I also want to have fun without grappling with this issue in my game.

Should I talk to him about it and encourage him to pursue alternative ways of achieving his character's goals? I could just have it be really difficult to do in the game, because this society is partially setup this way because of people that have tried to do this in their history, but I honestly think this is an out of character issue, because it makes me as a person uncomfortable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It would help to answer this question if you included what your Fate game was about, along the lines of fate-srd.com/fate-core/game-creation - what do the characters have to be proactive about, why are they competent in doing so, and where is the dramatic tension? More specifically, is this a game explicitly about political intrigue in a world one remove from classical Greece, or a game about something else where one character is, nonetheless, a wealthy merchant with political ambitions? \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius Sep 26 '20 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Historically politicians did buy votes. It wasn't considered immoral or unethical. It was the way the system worked. I'm not sure about the Greeks but the Roman senators bought all their votes. \$\endgroup\$ – shawnhcorey Jan 26 at 13:55


There really isn’t anything more to say; you are playing a game. The goal is to have fun. Being uncomfortable isn’t fun, so why would you agree to spend your playtime on that?

This is simply the reality of any cooperative, voluntary activity: everyone has to agree to play. Everyone has to actually want to play the game. Or else you have no game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that no part of this actually reflects your status as Game Master—this is true no matter your role in the game, and it applies equally well to everyone else in your game as well. Everyone is supposed to be having fun. That’s why we play. No one should find the characters or themes of the game discomforting (excepting when exploring a difficult or uncomfortable topic is what people find fun, what we’re playing the game for —but even then, we all have our limits). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 26 '20 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you should move your comment into the answer itself. It's no less important. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Sep 26 '20 at 10:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Several users have expressed they would like to see your first comment included as part of the answer. It is a valuable addition. Do you have a particular reason to oppose doing this? \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Sep 27 '20 at 3:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin So my reasoning is that it’s not necessarily part of the answer to the question—since the question is about the Game Master—but rather an addendum, a commentary on my own answer—despite the question being about the GM, the answer isn’t. I felt as though part of the answer’s “punchiness” came from being short, and the addendum is somewhat lengthy. None of these things is a huge deal, and I could be swayed to include it, but this was my thinking. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 28 '20 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can see your perspective. I think the counter-argument is that comments aren't really for "commentary on [an] answer" and are, in-theory, temporary. If it was me, I would probably include it into the answer under a horizontal rule to clearly separate it. But I will leave the decision to you. No harm done either way, good job on a fantastic answer. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Sep 29 '20 at 0:35

Should You?

"Should you" is a question we can't answer-- only you know your level of discomfort, the social consequences of saying no to your player, etc.

Can You?

"Can you" is a question we can answer: Generally, yes. Yes, you can.

A lot of GMs find it easy to make this judgment on behalf of their players: "No, your edgy dwarf who's racist against elves is not cool in general. It's even less cool if there's a player playing an elf in the game, and it's really seriously uncool if there's a player who experiences racism in real life playing in the game and now you're throwing that in their face every game session. Just don't do that at my table." (For instance.)

But it feels different when you're acting on your own behalf. I get it, I do. It just feels a little authoritarian if I'm making and enforcing that decision on my own behalf. To this, I offer two abstract arguments and one visceral example:

  • First Argument: You, the GM, are a player just as much as anyone else at the table. You have as much right as anyone at the table not to have something you find personally unpleasant constantly in your face during your precious recreation time. Indeed, as the GM, you might even feel like you're facilitating it, which is arguably worse.

  • Second Argument: You, the GM, are already in a position of trust to act with good faith on everyone's behalf adjudicating game mechanics, developing the game world and its storylines, etc. If you have any experience as a GM at all, or have thought about it for a while, you should already have a sense for when you're acting in good faith-- and if not, your game's going to have big problems, anyway. You may as well act in good faith on your own behalf.

  • The visceral example: What would your reaction be if your player's goal for his character was to buy as many slaves as possible? (And not as part of some liberation exercise.) I'd bounce that character-- and probably that player-- like a tennis ball. My point is not to suggest that buying political influence is the same as buying a human being. Rather, my point is that in this case, the extreme proves the rule: Yes, you can ban certain character concepts, and you need to be able to because of the extreme cases. So the only real question here, ultimately, is how uncomfortable this makes you.



From your campaign description, you are deliberately going for a historical setting, but I think that you are un-aware that the idea that elections should be free from bribery, voter intimidation and violence is a very modern one, that is ~150 years old. Before that, elections, even in the bastions of Western democracy like England and America, were so openly corrupt that would make places like Zimbabwe look like Switzerland in comparison these days, e.g. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/election-fraud-in-the-1800s-involved-kidnapping-and-forced-drinking , https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/bribery-and-debauchery-at-a-whig-electioneering-banquet-in-hogarths-an-election-entertainment. And the ancient world was even worse, Julius Caesar famously invaded Gaul to pay back the debts he incurred giving out astronomical bribes to both the populace and officialdom to be able to progress his political career.

For a citizen of a democratic Polis(Greek city-state), the idea of a politician who wants his vote while giving him absolutely nothing in return, not even copious amounts of free booze, would be inconceivably alien. As a GM, you are of course free to run the game according to your modern sensibilities, but then any pretense of historical accuracy goes out the window.

P.S. for a similar example of shocking values dissonance from a modern perspective, consider that the only way that British Army officers were able to get a promotion(or become Officers in the first place) up until 1871 was by buying their commission(i.e. rank). This would be ludicrously un-acceptable today, but only went away around the same time that open and socially acceptable political bribery did.

As famous the saying goes: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting perspective. I'd agree with this if this argument helps the OP get over their unease with the idea of this particular historical thing. It's certainly possible that they'd still rather play a game for fun in a sanitized / idealized history, without this or other nasty things that definitely happened in real life that I expect most groups would want to leave out (slavery, women as property / chattel, overt and/or systemic racism). \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Sep 27 '20 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes I'm not saying that you have to go for 100% historical accuracy, e.g. if the PC says that he satisfies his sexual needs with slave-boys that he owns and considers his wife to be a dumb creature useful only for procreation(*), the GM is within his rights to say: "Too much authenticity". But if the GM insists on having all the PCs think like modern people, only with swords and togas, they are better off with going for a low-fantasy setting, that might at least have a plausible explanation for a convergent morality, given a wildly different socio/economic/technological situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Sep 27 '20 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Thing is: the whole point of RPGs is to Role Play a character according to the constraints of the campaign's setting. If you discard everything about a character's society that is problematic from a modern perspective, you are left with nothing from any historical setting and at that point you're just running a no-magic fantasy campaign, that's less realistic than if magic provided justification for modern behavior. A "good" PC seeing nothing wrong with child sex-slaves is icky, a PC competing against his opponent for booze to bribe voters, is an interesting RP opportunity. \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Sep 28 '20 at 2:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the question is about “a society inspired by ancient Greece”, emphasis mine. I think this answer ignores that fundamental context. In that light, this answer is rather arbitrary in insisting that this anti-inspiring element must be included in the pastiche. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 28 '20 at 3:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with SevedSided, but I'd go farther: even if this campaign were set in historical Greece, it's silly to say that the concept of historical accuracy goes "out the window" if this specific facet of history is ignored, and sillier still to expect reverent historicity to take precedence over being fun. That's basically "my guy" syndrome only the guy in question is centuries dead. Sometimes RPGs require spot fixes to the setting to keep things going. That's just the nature of the beast. \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Footed Booby Sep 28 '20 at 17:46

At a minimum, a discussion should occur

You are entitled to have fun. If the game isn't fun because of the content then it's not a game it's some sort of torture. Don't do that.

I would advise talking with your player about your concerns and assuming that you can reach some sort of consensus that permits this to proceed then you should employ the X Card technique.

X Card isn't just for things like torture, murder, sexual assault, etc. It's for whatever makes you uncomfortable.


Should you subject yourself to themes that make you deeply uncomfortable?

Fundamentally the details don't really matter. This is an issue that is game and subject agnostic and entirely subjective to your table. If the thing being simulated makes you or your players uncomfortable enough that you're simply not having fun; eventually you're not going to put in the effort and it will stagnate and die even if you try to just grin and bear it. And that is one of the better potential outcomes, things like this left unchecked over time can literally poison friendships. I would definitely have a discussion about where he sees his character going and if it's something you can enjoy seeing played out.

Details of your Game

Now, that having been said, with your apparent distaste for politics, a facet of life rife with treachery, bribery, assassination, society-obliterating thefts, collusion, and conspiracies: why does this seem to be a major theme of your game? Even down to naming a political system which in my experience, most games simply don't do. Even political ones.

In the grand scheme of negative things that politics inflicts onto the world, a bit of coin used to game the system is hardly unique or the worst that existence has to offer. Genuinely benevolent people throughout history have used money to "grease the wheels". And further, why do you expect that a player should want to participate in a political campaign where they are expected to be hamstrung even at the most fundamental level of what politics is? What precisely do you expect your players to be doing?

Also, why is anything your villains do not fair play for the PCs to use against them? Anything on the table for you is... on the table, you put it there.

Given what I have from you so far, my advice for the specific scenario would be to drop the political angle entirely if simple bribery from a player is something you can't abide. Let it be some background detail that isn't a part of the major theme of the game as it is played even if it is an important part of the background.


You have several ways to shut this down.

I'll walk through them one at a time. I hope they'll be of some use to you, even though I don't know exactly how your game is structured. But first, let's start with what you shouldn't do:

DON'T just hide something you don't want to happen behind high numbers.

The nature of the randomizer is such that all of its outcomes are possible. If you, as GM, put a high number on something you don't want to happen, and think "oh, that'll happen so rarely it's basically the same as saying no", it's not the same as saying no. You are putting yourself on the hook to make it happen when the dice come up in your player's favor, and it doesn't matter how unlikely that is, it's possible.

DON'T keep playing a game that isn't fun for you.

Ultimately, playing a game where politics feature is likely to hit several raw nerves, because politics is a part of life and impacts everyone. It's also likely you're not the only player to have some hangup related to the subject matter. When creating a game it's important to air these concerns, but it's also important to take the group's temperature at the end of every session. Nobody can predict all the things they won't like in advance.

So how do you take money out of politics?

Way 1: "This isn't that kind of world."

There are two reasons bribes work, right?

It could be that the person being bribed is corrupt, preferring their own security and comfort to living up to their responsibilities: Don Gianpaolo knows that Chief Malone has a soft spot for rare wines, so a case of the good stuff is enough to get him to pull the force out of the warehouse district for the weekend.

Or it could be that the person being bribed is desperate, entrusted with a responsibility but not provided with the security and comfort to carry it out: Don Gianpaolo knows that Chief Malone's wife will die without a very expensive operation, so promising to fund it is enough to get him to pull the force out of the warehouse district for the weekend.

Fate Core has its roots in the genre of pulp action, set in a world with plenty of corrupt and/or desperate people, but it's not wrong to want to play in a world where the people in power aren't corrupt or desperate, and you can create that world by fictional fiat and just say, flat out, that bribes won't work in a quantity enough to affect an election. But that's a very soft denial. Maybe you want something harder.

Way 2: The Politics Game

So, if this is going to be a game about various people doing politics, it's well to keep in mind the prelude to Fate Core's Skills chapter:

Here is a basic list of example skills for you to use in your Fate games along with example stunts tied to each. They’re the ones being used for all the examples in this book, and should give you a good foundation from which to tweak your own lists, adding and subtracting skills as best fits your setting. For more on creating your own skills, see the Extras section.

-- Fate SRD, "Default Skill List"

You're not limited to using all of and/or only the skills Fate Core gives you, especially if your game is focusing on something that isn't the "default" of cinematic action. A game of cinematic action makes very different demands on its characters from a game about political intrigue, after all. And if your game is about political intrigue, it can be useful to restructure your skill tree or your skill selection to accommodate that.

There's a Fate supplement called Tachyon Squadron that focuses specifically on fighter pilots, and one of the ways they restructured their skill list is to give characters, instead of a standard skill 4-level pyramid, a 3-level pyramid for non-fighter pilot skills, and a 4-slant for the fighter pilot skills, such that everybody's got one piloting skill at each of +4/+3/+2/+1. Since everybody's a pilot, this prevents everybody from dedicating too much or too little of their skill selection to something that will be happening in the game all the time.

Even if you just keep the standard list, it might be useful to dedicate some skills to "doing politics" in this manner, and lock everything else into a non-political arena. This isn't to say that your wealthy character can't commission a Statue in My Honor or get a crowd Extravagantly Feasted as a Create an Advantage action outside politics proper, and carry those advantages into the debate.

However, other characters can use their other skills to set up advantages for the debate as well, not necessarily on a greater or lesser level than the ones the wealthy character made with Resources. The wealthy character will also have a political toolkit to use, rather than just treating the election as another problem to throw Resources at.

But maybe your game isn't dedicated to politics, or maybe you'd rather not restrict everyone in this way. You can go even harder.

Way 3: Does "I'm rich" have to be a skill?

Again, the skill list in the Fate Core book isn't binding - you can add and subtract from it as you'd like. Depending on how classical you're going, it's possible that Resources doesn't really make sense as a skill, at least not in its original spirit.

Sure, in a pulp action universe, it makes sense to have a way to measure how well a character can solve problems with money, separate from any concerns on how they actually got that money. That's something fairly common in a pulp setting, a character who's inherited wealth but isn't necessarily generating it actively. It also makes sense for there to be the whole vast mass of humanity, not necessarily affiliated with the heroes or the villains, but all motivated by money. And, lastly, it makes sense for there to be many things available "on the common market", where money is the most significant obstacle to their acquisition.

But do all those assumptions hold true as you turn back the clock? You could argue that they don't, really - that there isn't a vast mass of strangers, that supply lines aren't as reliable, and so there aren't really problems independent of the other social skills that a Resources rating would solve. So you might just eliminate Resources entirely as an independent skill.

This doesn't mean that there's no such thing as "being rich" - character aspects are still true, and certainly somebody who's trying to use money to get power has at least one aspect about how they made and/or have that money. So your rich character could still commission a Statue in My Honor where other characters might not be able to - but the difficult part of that would be finding a someone or someones to make that statue in a timely fashion in the first place, not just having the big stack of cash in the first place.


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