There are all kinds of campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons. Although a lot of players may think it's just killing monsters and going on adventures (and it always can be just that), often there are specifics to a campaign. Is it more science-fiction, where ships sail amongst the stars with magic, like in Spelljammer? Or is it more dark and gothic, like with Curse of Strahd?
Either way, one such game you might contemplate is a political campaign. Intrigue, secrets, and nebulous plots sweeping over a fantasy adventure filled with magic and monsters could make for a fun time. However, there are a few things one should do to prepare for such a complex campaign idea.
6 Choose Your Politics
It is vital to have a session zero with your players, especially with this type of campaign. You need to carefully go over what kinds of politics are to be focused on in the game — not only to test what your players would be interested in, but also what they would enjoy. For example, if you're planning to have a campaign around a slave revolution, how do your players feel about that? Is basing your game around a difficult topic like slavery going to be fun for your players to be involved with?
There are certain topics you should always discuss with your players before the campaign so that you can all agree on what won't be in the game. This is more important when it comes to politics, and you should pick what sort of politics you want to revolve a story around carefully — especially so you don't trigger an argument at the table. Remember, this is a game, not a debate club.
5 KISS The Campaign
In a political campaign there is a heavier focus on characters. No longer are you dealing with an NPC who wants you to kill some bugbears, but NPCs with more complicated motivations and stories. However, you need to remember KISS — an acronym meaning 'keep it simple, stupid'. If you focus too much on making characters have grandiose and complex plots and stories, you will get bogged down and confused over your notes.
There is a time and place for a complex character and more intriguing plots, but remember not to make everything too grand at once. It's okay to start the campaign off slow and have such things trickle in gradually. Instead of having a plot concerning tons of different noble houses over a sprawling kingdom, perhaps start smaller. You could have players focus on people who wish to be mayor of a village and work your way up from there.
4 The Best Builders Have Inspiration
For a situation where you are world-building, whether through creating a world or perhaps modifying one that already exists, it is always okay to take inspiration. This can be very helpful when it comes to organisations that have direct involvement in the world's politics. Though you may always come up with your own, it doesn't hurt to look at the factions on the official Dungeons & Dragons website, for example, and use such factions in your world.
This is also beneficial in terms of research. Is the campaign set during a war? Take inspiration from real-life events, like the political impact of wars in the past, to get ideas for the sorts of things that could happen in your campaign.
3 There Are Political Players, And Then Your Players
After crafting a political campaign with different characters, factions, and settings for the world, it is important to remember that this game is run for your players. At the end of the day, these are friends and family; people who have their own lives but have agreed to carve out a few hours a week to come and play in your campaign.
It may be great to show off the power of guild masters and monarchs, but the players must also feel central to the story. This means that even if politics and intrigue are the focus, it's alright to have the players do something more active like finding a lost treasure or hunting monsters. It just means that such traditional adventures likely have some intriguing motives behind them.
Maybe instead of just finding a lost artifact, it's a treasure that has been contested between two political families. Both might wish to hire the party to seek it and deliver it to them.
2 Inject Some Fantasy Into Your Politics
One of the best parts of playing a political campaign in Dungeons & Dragons is the fantastical aspect of it. After all, with magic ciphers, telepathic spells, pet familiars, and more, a lot of fun can be had when it comes to how these things affect the politics of a campaign. They also give an idea as to different areas of politics to explore. A political campaign could be a setting where magic is banned, but a rebellion seeks to change that.
You can focus on the types of monsters that inhabit your world and the unique ways they could play a role in the political schemes of your campaign. Instead of a dragon terrorising the countryside, perhaps instead it's a dragon who has disguised themselves as the monarch to attain the largest hoard of them all — a kingdom.
1 Make Sure Your Party Fits The Puzzle
Though you've done a service to your players by making and running such a campaign, they need to also create characters that fit this type of campaign. A character who seeks adventure only and doesn't care about politics is not going to fit well in a game all about politics.
Make sure you communicate with your players about what kind of character you expect for the campaign. They don't have to be the son of the king or all about politics to fit in, but having a character who is politically savvy and has the right motivations will be the wheels on the moving carriage of your game. After all, you wouldn't expect your players to make a character that doesn't want to adventure, so don't allow one that won't engage with your campaign.
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